The consequences of corporations and greed run amok
Dickens, where are you when we need you?
Never has "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" served as a more apt commentary on society than today.
The NASDAQ just broke 4,000 and has nearly doubled in 1999. The Dow is at near-record heights as well. Internet, computer and communications technologies are evolving at a stunning velocity. A lot of people are becoming incredibly wealthy, and a lot are having fun on the Internet.
If you want, you can look at this state of affairs and say that everything is fine. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.
Or, you can look at a different set of snapshots and ask these and many other probing questions:
Why does the United States, the richest nation in the history of the world, warehouse its elderly in what are euphemistically called nursing homes, permitting many to live out their last years in social isolation and sometimes filth and neglect?
Why are profitable and fast-growing corporations permitted to expose their workers to dangerous and life-threatening conditions that could be avoided with minimal investments?
Why are the poor, undereducated and unsophisticated subject to a host of financial scams that empty their small savings accounts or throw them into debt?
Why are working people in the United State who try to organize into unions regularly subjected to threats of firing and plant closure, harassment, intimidation and managerial refusal to bargain with duly elected unions?
Why does the United States permit the massive concentration of economic and political power through mergers and acquisitions that work to foreclose democratic options for the future?
Why do rich societies permit their corporations to engage, directly or indirectly, through contractors and subcontractors, in brutally exploitative practices in developing countries -- practices that have long been outlawed in the rich countries?
There is of course no one single answer to these and the many other critical questions that should be asked in a society that does so much to generate wealth, at least as measured by conventional standards, but so little to distribute that wealth -- or justice -- evenly. But there is one connecting theme that serves, at least, as a partial answer to many of these questions: concentrated corporate power.
Each year, to highlight the consequences of corporations and greed run amok, Multinational Monitor publishes a list of the 10 worst corporations of the year.
Here's this year's list, in alphabetical order:
Avondale: Good riddance
For more than half a decade, Avondale, which operates a shipyard in New Orleans, waged a vicious campaign to block recognition of its employees' desire for a union -- a desire springing in no small part from way below industry standard wages and a gruesome workplace casualty record of a death a year. In August, Avondale was acquired by Litton, which agreed to recognize the workers' union in November.
- Citigroup: The standard in political corruption
Citigroup played the lead role in ushering the "Financial Services Modernization Act" through the U.S. Congress, in the process joining with the rest of the financial services industry to set a new standard in legalized bribery. The Act will tear down the regulatory walls between banks, and insurance companies and securities firms, paving the massive concentration of financial wealth and a future of industry bailouts, weakening the Community Reinvestment Act and permitting huge intrusions on consumer privacy.
- Del Monte: Banana imperialism into the twenty-first century
In September, Bandegua, the Guatemalan subsidiary of Coral Gables, Florida-based Fresh Del Monte Produce (now a separate company from California-based Del Monte Foods), dismissed 900 of its banana workers. When other unionized Bandegua workers tried to organize a solidarity protest, the union leadership was met with a 200-person, armed goon squad which chased the leadership out of town, threatening to kill them if they returned. Del Monte and Bandegua deny responsibility, but they have certainly benefited from the threats.
- Guardian Postacute: Maggots everywhere
After learning that of Guardian Postacute Services Inc., a San Francisco Bay area nursing home chain, had permitted dirty feeding tubes to be installed into patients who then became infested with maggots, had permitted patients to lie for extended periods in their urine and feces, and had failed to take strong action against an employee who sexually abused patients, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Randy Hey has filed criminal charges against Guardian.
- Hoffman La Roche: Take the market, pay the fine
Earlier this year, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. paid $500 million -- the largest fine in U.S. antitrust history -- for its efforts with German chemical maker BASF to allocate market shares for certain vitamins sold in the United States and elsewhere. The whistleblower who inspired the case says Roche's response to the fines was to redouble its efforts to gain total control of the vitamin market.
- Tosco: Four dead workers
On February 23, 1999, four workers at a Tosco Corp. facility in Avon, California were burned to death after they tried to replace a leaky oil pipe. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that one Tosco employee, Anthony Creggett, claimed shortly after the fire that plant managers had refused a request by four workers to shut down the high-temperature distillation tower during the repairs on the pipe.
- Tyson: Seven deaths in seven months
Maybe we should consider raising our own chickens. Clearly, relying on multinational corporations to raise millions of birds for us in unsanitary and dangerous conditions is not working out. Tysons Foods is a case in point. Do you really want to buy your chicken from these people? Consider this: seven workers have been killed at Tyson facilities this year. There have been no reported job-related deaths at any other poultry company in 1999.
- U.S. Bank: Big brother is watching
Earlier this year, U.S. Bank agreed to stop selling its customers' personal data -- everything from social security numbers to account balances, from birth date to number of credit cards -- to a telemarketing firm. But that came only after Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch filed a lawsuit against U.S. Bank, alleging it violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and engaged in consumer fraud and deceptive advertising.
- Whirlpool: Preying on the poor
Earlier this year, an Alabama jury hit a recently spun off Whirlpool subsidiary, Whirlpool Financial, and one of its dealers with a $581 million verdict for targeting illiterate and poor people in a sales scheme involving satellite television dishes. Lawyers representing the victims said that Whirlpool had dealers all over the state going door-to-door soliciting poor, unsophisticated and elderly customers to purchase satellite television dishes for $1,100 plus 22 percent interest. The same equipment could be bought at an electronics store for $199. On appeal, an Alabama appellate court agreed only to knock the verdict down to $301 million.
- W.R. Grace: You can't eat enough of it
At least 192 people have died of asbestos-related disease from a mine near Libby, Montana that was owned by W.R. Grace for nearly 30 years, according to a report that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At least another 375 have been diagnosed with the fatal disease. For three decades, Grace mined enormous deposits of vermiculite in the earth of nearby Zonolite Mountain. Under the vermiculite are millions of tons of tremolite, a rare and exceedingly toxic form of asbestos. Community residents say Grace for years told residents and workers that the dust was harmless. "When my father was a young man they told him, 'You can't eat enough of that stuff. It won't bother you. He's dead,'" Patrick Vinion, a Libby resident, says. Now Vinion, who never worked as a miner, is himself dying from asbestos-related disease.
© Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
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. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999)
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December 31, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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