CORPORATE FOCUS: Ten Worst Corporations of 2000
Self-regulation is all the rage in Washington, D.C. these days.
Responsible corporations, perhaps working in conjunction with government, can band together to devise standards of ethical conduct that will protect people and the planet, without unnecessary costs -- that's the line among a wide array of beltway players. And with Christine Todd Whitman anointed to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, it's going to become even more faddish.
There's one problem with the self-regulation theory: it doesn't work.
Every corporation regulates itself. It chooses whether to obey the law, or not. It chooses whether to permit its employees to unionize, or to fight organizing efforts, whether to bargain fairly with unions, or to try to bust them. It chooses whether to use clean production technologies, or to pollute.
The self-regulation record is clear. Too often, corporations choose to despoil the natural environment, deny care to the sick, smash workers' unions, retaliate against whistleblowers who seek to cal attention egregious corporate abuses, endanger consumers, and more.
Need evidence? That's why we've compiled this list of the Ten Worst Corporations of the Year. Appearing on this year's list:
Aventis: Making Human Guinea Pigs
The biotech company recklessly raced its genetically modified StarLink corn to market. Not approved for human consumption, Starlink soon found its way into the food supply (through Taco Bell shells and other food items), through cross-pollination with conventional corn crops, improper mixing in grain elevators or otherwise. Critics say StarLink corn poses serious allergenic risks, including fever, rashes and diarrhea.
BAT: Smuggler of Death
Industry documents uncovered in connection with the U.S. state litigation against the tobacco industry reveal that British American Tobacco for decades promoted and facilitated a worldwide cigarette smuggling scheme, with extensive efforts in Latin America and Asia. Cigarette smuggling evades excise taxes -- lowering cigarette prices and increasing smoking rates.
The oil giant which likes to portray itself as environmentally responsible paid major fines and entered settlements in 2000 for illegal disposal of hazardous waste, alleged Clean Air Act violations, and underpaying royalties for oil produced on federal and Native American lands.
DoubleClick: Cookie Crook?
DoubleClick is rubbing up against the edge of internet privacy protections, having acquired the ability to match consumer information from web usage and purchases -- mostly gained without consumer knowledge or informed consent -- with consumers' names and addresses.
Ford/Firestone: Reckless Homicide?
Ford and Firestone placed the lethal combination of Ford Explorers and Firestone tires on the road, leaving the deadly mix on the road even after they had overwhelming evidence of the consumer hazard.
Glaxo Wellcome: Patents Over People
With the HIV/AIDS crisis at least as severe as the Black Death which wracked Europe in medieval times, Glaxo Wellcome and other drug manufacturers persist in engaging in a variety of tactics to block African and other poor countries from making available cheap generic versions of lifesaving AIDS drugs.
Lockheed Martin: Testing Its Pollutant on Humans
The Los Angeles Times reported in November that on behalf of military contractor Lockheed Martin, Loma Linda University is conducting the first large-scale tests of a toxic drinking water contaminant -- a rocket fuel component -- on human subjects.
Philipps Petroleum: Deadly Employer
A massive explosion at a Phillips Petroleum plastics plant in Pasadena, Texas in March killed one person and injured 74. It was the third fatal accident at the sprawling petrochemical complex in the last 11 years, including a 1989 blast that killed 23 people and an explosion in June1999 that left two dead.
Smithfield Foods: Pig Out
To the detriment of family farmers, Smithfield Foods is rushing to consolidate control of the meatpacking industry, most recently with a proposed merger with IBP Inc. While wrecking havoc on the farm economy, the big hog companies are also destroying farm country. The rapid growth of factory farms and the resulting mountains of untreated livestock manure are fouling drinking water supplies and causing a public health risk throughout the United States.
Titan International: Union Buster
Approximately 1,000 United Steelworker of America (USWA) workers at two Titan facilities have struck the maker of agricultural, off-road and construction tires, wheels and assemblies since 1998. The viciously anti-union Titan CEO Morry Taylor responded to a National Labor Relations Board unfair labor practices complaint by reportedly telling the Natchez Democrat that "I figure in five years they'll get that to the first federal court. By that time they'll all be enjoying retirement pay."
And that's about as good a refutation of the idea of self-regulation as any.
(The full story, "The Ten Worst Corporation of the Year," is posted at http://www.essential.org/monitor/mm2000/00december/enemies.html.)
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.