Cast Your Vote for the Worst Offender in the Corporate Hall of Shame
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Last week, Filmmaker Robert Greenwald, director of Iraq for Sale: the War Profiteers, recently testified before Congress about corporate conduct in Iraq that included price-gouging, out-and-out ripoffs, incomplete projects, giving dirty drinking water to U.S. troops in the field, charging the government for gas shipments that were never made, putting troops' lives at risk guarding empty trucks on dangerous convoys in order to make a buck and a dozen other egregious offenses on the backs of U.S. taxpayers.
In response, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Insanity, revealed just how low the bar has been set in corporate America. Kingston, with a straight face, turned to Greenwald and asked him, "Are you saying that profit is evil?"
This is the environment in which America's civil society operates today. Whereas conservatives once defended the basic principles of capitalism, reactionaries like Kingston have come to view any attempt to hold corporations accountable for their actions as a form of socialism unto itself.
This week, Corporate Accountability International launched its " Corporate Hall of Shame" in an attempt to "publicly challenge corporations and expose their abuses, political influence and manipulation of public policy."
The tricky part, of course, is selecting the worst offenders. Kathryn Mulvey, executive director of Corporate Accountability International, said that while "all of the nominees deserve this infamous dishonor," the NGO would allow visitors to its website determine who deserves the honor. Said Mulvey: "We look forward to seeing which ones concerned citizens believe are the worst of the worst." The project follows Corporate Accountability International's previous campaigns -- the grassroots organization organized the successful Nestle boycott in the 1970s, got General Electric to get out of the nuclear weapons business in the 1980s and fought Big Tobacco during the 1990s.
The nominees for this latest project are a who's-who of corporate malfeasance. Here's their "mug-shots," courtesy of the Hall of Shame.
Coca-Cola: The real cost of the Real Thing
What is the "Coke Side of Life" like on the other side of the world? In India, Coca-Cola bottling plants drain local water supplies, causing village wells to run dry. Plant workers in Colombia who fight for labor rights and decent working conditions are violently harassed. Here in the United States, Coke has worked to undermine public confidence in local water utilities through the marketing of its bottled water products, even though its water comes from municipal sources that they then mark up hundreds of times the original cost.
ExxonMobil: Slick lawyers -- and a lot of hot air
Even though ExxonMobil is the most profitable corporation in the world, the oil giant is still using its legal clout to avoid paying $4.5 billion in punitive damages from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. At the same time, Exxon is spending millions to delay action on global warming. As the only oil corporation that still denies the urgency of climate change, ExxonMobil spent nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 funding "junk science" from front groups that confuse the issue.
Ford: Driving America's dependence on oil
Automobiles are one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States -- and Ford's auto fleet has had deplorable fuel efficiency ratings. Ford also leads the industry in blocking state and federal efforts to improve auto emissions and efficiency. It was Ford's lobbyists that took the lead in keeping improved fuel efficiency standards out of the 2005 Energy Bill. Meanwhile, Ford has spent millions on "greenwashing" ads to portray itself as an environmental leader. In April, Ford awarded its new CEO $28 million for only four months of work, just as the company moves ahead with plans to close plants and cut more than 30,000 hourly positions.
Halliburton: Maximum profits, minimal accountability
At Halliburton, war profiteering is big business. Since the Iraq war began, Halliburton has been awarded more than $20 billion in government contracts. Now Congress is investigating $2.7 billion in waste and overcharging by Halliburton -- including bills for three times the meals that U.S. troops actually received in Iraq. With these sky-high prices comes an embarrassingly low level of service, such as water contaminated with feces that Halliburton delivered to troops for bathing, laundry and even making coffee. Now, after charging taxpayers billions of dollars for their government contracts, Halliburton has announced plans to cut and run, moving its corporate headquarters from Houston to Dubai, which will likely make it easier for the company to pay less U.S. taxes.
Kimberly-Clark: The clear-cut truth about Kleenex
Kimberly-Clark may say its tissues are soft on the nose, but its paper products are hard on the Earth. The world's largest tissue maker refuses to use recycled fiber in Kleenex and its other popular products. Kimberly-Clark's appetite for clear-cut fiber is driving the destruction of ancient forests in the North American "Boreal" -- a pristine forest that is critical for stabilizing the climate and home to migratory birds and 80 percent of Canada's indigenous peoples.
Merck: Big pharma's bad medicine
Once a role model for responsible corporate behavior, Merck has been more about money than patients in recent years. The pharmaceutical giant was widely condemned for keeping Vioxx on the shelves for four years after learning that the pain medication could cause heart complications. Merck withdrew the drug only after negative press about the thousands of lawsuits filed by patients who had suffered heart attacks. In the face of public health crises in the developing world, Merck's actions have been increasingly motivated by greed. In Thailand, Merck aggressively fought government efforts to allow the sale of generic versions of life-saving AIDS medications.
Nestle: Not so sweet after all
Its chocolate may be sweet, but NestlÃ©'s corporate conduct and labor practices are far from it. Violations of labor rights have been reported from NestlÃ© factories in numerous countries, including the exploitation of children in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast. As one of the world's largest and most powerful food and beverage corporations, NestlÃ© uses its political influence to shape nutrition policies to avoid responsibility for its role in the global obesity epidemic. For its bottled water products, NestlÃ© uses aggressive and manipulative tactics to obtain community water sources.
Wal-Mart: Low prices, lower wages
The world's largest retailer generates nearly a billion dollars per day in sales. In fact, 2.5 cents of every dollar spent in the United States passes through a Wal-Mart cash register. But the employees who run those cash registers, stock the shelves, and clean the floors aren't sharing in the corporate wealth. Most of the retail giant's workers have an annual income close to the poverty line. Fewer than half are covered by the corporation's health plan. Meanwhile, congressional investigators estimate that each Wal-Mart store receives nearly half a million dollars a year in government subsidies.
Missing are a thousand other firms, but you can write in your choice for the worst of the worst. "Offending corporations should take notice," says Kathryn Mulvey, "You are not getting away with your abusive practices. What better way to expose them than to give the public an online outlet for their frustration each year?"