What a year for corporate criminality and malfeasance!
As we compiled the Multinational Monitor list of the 10 Worst Corporations of 2008, it would have been easy to restrict the awardees to Wall Street firms.
But the rest of the corporate sector was not on good behavior during
2008 either, and we didn't want them to escape justified scrutiny.
So, in keeping with our tradition of highlighting diverse forms of
corporate wrongdoing, we included only one financial company on the 10
Here, presented in alphabetical order, are the 10 Worst Corporations of 2008.
AIG: Money for Nothing
There's surely no one party responsible for the ongoing global
financial crisis. But if you had to pick a single responsible
corporation, there's a very strong case to make for American
International Group (AIG), which has already sucked up more than $150
billion in taxpayer supports. Through "credit default swaps," AIG
basically collected insurance premiums while making the ridiculous
assumption that it would never pay out on a failure -- let alone a
collapse of the entire market it was insuring. When reality set in, the
roof caved in.
Cargill: Food Profiteers
When food prices spiked in late 2007 and through the beginning of 2008,
countries and poor consumers found themselves at the mercy of the
global market and the giant trading companies that dominate it. As
hunger rose and food riots broke out around the world, Cargill saw
profits soar, tallying more than $1 billion in the second quarter of
In a competitive market, would a grain-trading middleman make
super-profits? Or would rising prices crimp the middleman's profit
margin? Well, the global grain trade is not competitive, and the legal
rules of the global economy-- devised at the behest of Cargill and
friends -- ensure that poor countries will be dependent on, and at the
mercy of, the global grain traders.
Chevron: "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies"
In 2001, Chevron swallowed up Texaco. It was happy to absorb the
revenue streams. It has been less willing to take responsibility for
Texaco's ecological and human rights abuses.
In 1993, 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians filed a class action suit in
U.S. courts, alleging that Texaco over a 20-year period had poisoned
the land where they live and the waterways on which they rely, allowing
billions of gallons of oil to spill and leaving hundreds of waste pits
unlined and uncovered. Chevron had the case thrown out of U.S. courts,
on the grounds that it should be litigated in Ecuador, closer to where
the alleged harms occurred. But now the case is going badly for Chevron
in Ecuador -- Chevron may be liable for more than $7 billion. So, the
company is lobbying the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to
impose trade sanctions on Ecuador if the Ecuadorian government does not
make the case go away.
"We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like
this -- companies that have made big investments around the world," a
Chevron lobbyist said to Newsweek in August. (Chevron subsequently
stated that the comments were not approved.)
Constellation Energy: Nuclear Operators
Although it is too dangerous, too expensive and too centralized to make
sense as an energy source, nuclear power won't go away, thanks to
equipment makers and utilities that find ways to make the public pay
Constellation Energy Group, the operator of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear
plant in Maryland -- a company recently involved in a startling,
partially derailed scheme to price gouge Maryland consumers -- plans to
build a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs, potentially the first new
reactor built in the United States since the near-meltdown at Three
Mile Island in 1979.
It has lined up to take advantage of U.S. government-guaranteed loans
for new nuclear construction, available under the terms of the 2005
Energy Act. The company acknowledges it could not proceed with
construction without the government guarantee.
CNPC: Fueling Violence in Darfur
Sudan has been able to laugh off existing and threatened sanctions for
the slaughter it has perpetrated in Darfur because of the huge support
it receives from China, channeled above all through the Sudanese
relationship with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).
"The relationship between CNPC and Sudan is symbiotic," notes the
Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights First, in a March 2008 report,
"Investing in Tragedy." "Not only is CNPC the largest investor in the
Sudanese oil sector, but Sudan is CNPC's largest market for overseas
Oil money has fueled violence in Darfur. "The profitability of Sudan's
oil sector has developed in close chronological step with the violence
in Darfur," notes Human Rights First.
Dole: The Sour Taste of Pineapple
A 1988 Filipino land reform effort has proven a fraud. Plantation
owners helped draft the law and invented ways to circumvent its
purported purpose. Dole pineapple workers are among those paying the
Under the land reform, Dole's land was divided among its workers and
others who had claims on the land prior to the pineapple giant.
However, wealthy landlords maneuvered to gain control of the labor
cooperatives the workers were required to form, Washington, D.C.-based
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) explains in an October report.
Dole has slashed it regular workforce and replaced them with contract
Contract workers are paid under a quota system, and earn about $1.85 a day, according to ILRF.
GE: Creative Accounting
In June, former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston reported on
internal General Electric documents that appeared to show the company
had engaged in a long-running effort to evade taxes in Brazil. In a
lengthy report in Tax Notes International, Johnston reported on a GE
subsidiary's scheme to invoice suspiciously high sales volume for
lighting equipment in lightly populated Amazon regions of the country.
These sales would avoid higher value added taxes (VAT) in urban states,
where sales would be expected to be greater.
Johnston wrote that the state-level VAT at issue, based on the internal
documents he reviewed, appeared to be less than $100 million. But, he
speculated, the overall scheme could have involved much more.
Johnston did not identify the source that gave him the internal GE
documents, but GE has alleged it was a former company attorney, Adriana
Koeck. GE fired Koeck in January 2007 for what it says were
Imperial Sugar: 14 Dead
On February 7, an explosion rocked the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port
Wentworth, Georgia, near Savannah. Days later, when the fire was
finally extinguished and search-and-rescue operations completed, the
horrible human toll was finally known: 14 dead, dozens badly burned and
As with almost every industrial disaster, it turns out the tragedy was
preventable. The cause was accumulated sugar dust, which like other
forms of dust, is highly combustible.
A month after the Port Wentworth explosion, Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors investigated another Imperial
Sugar plant, in Gramercy, Louisiana. They found 1/4- to 2-inch
accumulations of dust on electrical wiring and machinery. They found as
much as 48-inch accumulations on workroom floors.
Imperial Sugar obviously knew of the conditions in its plants. It had
in fact taken some measures to clean up operations prior to the
explosion. The company brought in a new vice president to clean up
operations in November 2007, and he took some important measures to
improve conditions. But it wasn't enough. The vice president told a
Congressional committee that top-level management had told him to tone
down his demands for immediate action.
Philip Morris International: Unshackled
The old Philip Morris no longer exists. In March, the company formally
divided itself into two separate entities: Philip Morris USA, which
remains a part of the parent company Altria, and Philip Morris
International. Philip Morris USA sells Marlboro and other cigarettes in
the United States. Philip Morris International tramples the rest of the
Philip Morris International has already signaled its initial plans to
subvert the most important policies to reduce smoking and the toll from
tobacco-related disease (now at 5 million lives a year). The company
has announced plans to inflict on the world an array of new products,
packages and marketing efforts. These are designed to undermine
smoke-free workplace rules, defeat tobacco taxes, segment markets with
specially flavored products, offer flavored cigarettes sure to appeal
to youth and overcome marketing restrictions.
Roche: "Saving lives is not our business"
The Swiss company Roche makes a range of HIV-related drugs. One of them
is enfuvirtid, sold under the brand-name Fuzeon. Fuzeon brought in $266
million to Roche in 2007, though sales are declining.
Roche charges $25,000 a year for Fuzeon. It does not offer a discount price for developing countries.
Like most industrialized countries, Korea maintains a form of price
controls -- the national health insurance program sets prices for
medicines. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs listed
Fuzeon at $18,000 a year. Korea's per capita income is roughly half
that of the United States. Instead of providing Fuzeon, for a profit,
at Korea's listed level, Roche refuses to make the drug available in
Korean activists report that the head of Roche Korea told them, "We are
not in business to save lives, but to make money. Saving lives is not
Originally posted on December 29, 2008, at:
Robert Weissman is managing director of the Multinational Monitor.
- 107 Energy
- 122 Pharmaceuticals
- 181 Food and Agriculture