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
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 2008 alone.
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 and
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
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 price.
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 workers.
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 “performance
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 injured.
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 Korea.
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
By Robert Weissman
Without a law banning export of toxic electronic waste in the United
States, there has been no way to know if old cell phones, computers or
televisions originating there didn’t end up in some poor village in the
developing world, where desperate people pull them apart by hand to recover
some of the valuable metals inside.
The Papua New Guinea jungle has given up one of its darkest secrets – the
systematic slaughter of every male baby born in two villages to prevent
future tribal clashes.
China is aggressively developing its power to wage cyber warfare and is now
in a position to delay or disrupt the deployment of America’s military
forces around the world, potentially giving it the upper hand in any
Coordinated groups of gunmen shot and blasted their way through tourist
sites in the Indian financial center of Mumbai, killing at least 101 people
and wounding more than 200 while apparently targeting American and British
citizens for use as hostages.
Currently even when e-waste (electronic trash) goes to a “green” recycler,
the chances are high that toxic stuff from the developed world ended up in
a huge pile in the middle of some village.
By virtually wiping out the ‘male stock’, tribal women hope they can avoid
deadly bow-and-arrow wars between the villages in the future.
There has been an alarming increase in incidents of Chinese computer
attacks on the US government, defence companies and businesses. China now
has both the intent and capability to launch cyber attacks “anywhere in the
world at any time”.
The attackers swept through two luxury hotels favored by foreigners, the
Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi, firing automatic weapons, throwing
grenades and sending panicked guests scrambling for safety. Some guests
were trapped inside the hotels for hours, even as a series of explosions
set fire to the Taj hotel, a landmark along of Mumbai’s waterfront.
The U.S. generates an estimated three million tonnes of electronic waste,
such as cell phones and computers, each year. U.S. citizens bought some 30
million television sets this year and that number will be higher next year
as all U.S. TV networks switch to digital broadcasts Feb. 17.
‘Babies grow into men and men turn into warriors,’ said Rona Luke, a
village wife who is attending a special ‘peace and reconciliation’ meeting
in the mountain village of Goroka.
In 2007, about 5m computers in the US were the targets of 43,880 incidents
of malicious activity – a rise of almost a third on the previous year.
Although Mumbai has been the scene of several terrorist attacks in recent
years, experts said Wednesday’s assaults required a previously unseen
degree of reconnaissance and planning. The scale and synchronization of the
attacks pointed to the likely involvement of experienced commanders, some
said, suggesting possible foreign involvement.
‘It’s because of the terrible fights that have brought death and
destruction to our villages for the past 20 years that all the womenfolk
have agreed to have all new-born male babies killed,’ said Mrs Luke.
Launching their attacks after dark, the terrorists struck almost
simultaneously at the city’s domestic airport and a railway station and
sprayed gunfire at the Leopold Cafe, a restaurant popular with foreigners.
As many as 16 groups hit nine sites on the southern flank of this crowded
metropolis of 19 million.
It is estimated that 100 containers of e-waste arrive in Hong Kong every
day and are then smuggled into China. It’s all coming from the U.S. and
Canada; much of this activity is illegal in China. But it is a very big and
profitable industry so many officials in China and elsewhere are willing to
look the other way.
China’s ability to wage cyber warfare is now “so sophisticated that the US
may be unable to counteract or even detect the efforts”. Given the
dependence on the internet of key sectors of US public life, from the
federal government and military to water treatment, social security and the
electricity grid, a successful attack on these internet-connected networks
could paralyse the US.
Mumbai is South Asia’s financial hub and an entertainment capital, with
many of the glitzy targets symbolizing the new cosmopolitan face of the
world’s largest democracy. Several witnesses said the gunmen demanded to
see passports from cornered guests, separating American and British
tourists from the others. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said U.S.
officials were not aware of any American casualties but were still
‘The women have had enough of men engaging in tribal conflicts and bringing
misery to them.’ Tribal fighting in the region of Gimi, in the country’s
Eastern Highlands, has been going on since 1986, many of the clashes
arising over claims of sorcery.
There has been concern about Chinese computer espionage since 2002, when a
large-scale series of cyber intrusions was launched on US military and
government computer systems. In that attack, codenamed Titan Rain by the
US, the Chinese downloaded up to 20 terabytes of data — twice the amount
stored in the entire print collection of the Library of Congress.
In the chaos and confusion, it was difficult to confirm details or
determine the nationalities of hostages apparently being held on several
floors of the damaged hotels. India’s NDTV 24×7 news channel reported that
the gunmen were holding more than a dozen foreigners, including a Belgian
and an Indonesian.
The mountain of e-waste grows each day as new electronic devices are
created to drive an economy rooted in endless growth. And consider that 85
percent of e-waste goes in landfills or is incinerated locally,
contaminating the United States’ groundwater and air. Millions more
stockpiled computers, monitors and TV are sitting in basements, garages,
offices and homes.
The sensational claims recall the Biblical story of the Old Testament
pharaoh who ordered all midwives to kill Israelite baby boys because he
wanted to ensure there were never enough young men to fight in an army
against the Egyptians.
Much of the activity is likely to emanate from groups of hackers, but the
lines between private espionage and government-sponsored operations are
blurred. Some 250 hacker groups are tolerated, and may even be encouraged,
by Beijing to invade computer networks. Individual hackers are also being
trained in cyber operations at Chinese military bases. China is stealing
vast amounts of sensitive information from US computer networks.
Firefighters could be seen helping guests to safety, and some later reports
suggested that hostages at the Taj had been freed. Other reports said there
were attacks at two hospitals, a police station and the Mumbai office of an
ultra-Orthodox Jewish outreach group, Chabad Lubavitch.
A resident of Agibu village, Mrs Luke said she did not know how many male
babies were killed by being smothered, but it had happened to all males
over a 10 year period – and she suggested it was still happening. Choking
back tears she added: ‘It’s a terrible, unbearable crime, but the women had
to do it. ‘The women have really being forced into it as it’s the only
means available to them as women to bring an end to tribal fights.’
Beijing is investing huge resources in cyber and space missions because it
sees America’s computer networks and space assets as its “soft ribs and
strategic weaknesses”. The extent of its activities gives it the potential
to beat the US in military conflict.
Huge waves caused by king tides smashed into dozens of villages and towns
in northern Papua New Guinea, destroying homes and flooding businesses and
a hospital, local media reported.