2002 will forever be remembered as the year of corporate crime, the year even President George Bush embraced the notion of “corporate responsibility.”
While the Bush White House has now downgraded its “corporate responsibility portal” to a mere link to uninspiring content on the White House webpage, and although the prospect of war has largely bumped the issue off the front pages, the cascade of corporate financial and accounting scandals continues.
We easily could have filled Multinational Monitor’s list of the 10 Worst Corporations of the Year with some of the dozens of companies embroiled in the financial scandals.
But we decided against that course.
As extraordinary as the financial misconduct has been, we didn’t want to contribute to the perception that corporate wrongdoing in 2002 was limited to the financial misdeeds arena.
For Multinational Monitor’s 10 Worst Corporations of 2002 list, we included only Andersen from the ranks of the financial criminals and miscreants. Andersen’s assembly line document destruction certainly merits a place on the list. (Citigroup appears on the list as well, but primarily for a subsidiary’s involvement in predatory lending, as well as the company’s funding of environmentally destructive projects around the world.)
As for the rest, we present a collection of polluters, dangerous pill peddlers, modern-day mercenaries, enablers of human rights abuses, merchants of death, and beneficiaries of rural destruction and misery.
Multinational Monitor has named Arthur Andersen, British American Tobacco (BAT), Caterpillar, Citigroup, DynCorp, M&M/Mars, Procter & Gamble, Schering Plough, Shell and Wyeth as the 10 Worst Corporations of 2001.
Appearing in alphabetical order, the 10 worst are:
Arthur Andersen, for a massive scheme to destroy documents related to the Enron meltdown. “Tons of paper relating to the Enron audit were promptly shredded as part of the orchestrated document destruction,” a federal indictment against Andersen alleged. “The shredder at the Andersen office at the Enron building was used virtually constantly and, to handle the overload, dozens of large trunks filled with Enron documents were sent to Andersen’s main Houston office to be shredded.” Andersen was convicted for illegal document destruction, effectively putting the company out of business.
BAT, for operating worldwide programs supposedly designed to prevent youth smoking but which actually make the practice more attractive to kids (by suggesting smoking is an adult activity), continuing to deny the harmful health effects of second-hand smoke, and working to oppose efforts at the World Health Organization to adopt a strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Caterpillar, for selling bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which are used as an instrument of war to destroy Palestinian homes and buildings. The IDF has destroyed more than 7,000 Palestinian homes since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, leaving 30,000 people homeless.
Citigroup, both for its deep involvement in the Enron and other financial scandals and its predatory lending practices through its recently acquired subsidiary The Associates. Citigroup paid $215 million to resolve Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that The Associates engaged in systematic and widespread deceptive and abusive lending practices.
DynCorp, a controversial private firm which subcontracts military services with the Defense Department, for flying planes that spray herbicides on coca crops in Colombia. Farmers on the ground allege that the herbicides are killing their legal crops, and exposing them to dangerous toxins.
M&M/Mars, for responding tepidly to revelations about child slaves in the West African fields where much of the world’s cocoa is grown, and refusing to commit to purchase a modest 5 percent of its product from Fair Trade providers.
Procter & Gamble, the maker of Folger’s coffee and part of the coffee roaster oligopoly, for failing to take action to address plummeting coffee bean prices. Low prices have pushed tens of thousands of farmers in Central America, Ethiopia, Uganda and elsewhere to the edge of survival, or destroyed their means of livelihood altogether.
Schering Plough, for a series of scandals, most prominently allegation of repeated failure over recent years to fix problems in manufacturing dozens of drugs at four of its facilities in New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Schering paid $500 million to settle the case with the Food and Drug Administration.
Shell Oil, for continuing business as usual as one of the world’s leading environmental violators — while marketing itself as a socially and environmentally responsible company.
Wyeth, for using duplicitous means, and without sufficient scientific proof, to market hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to women as a fountain of youth. Scientific evidence reported in 2002 showed that long-term HRT actually threatens women’s lives, by increasing the risks of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
What’s the lesson to draw from this year’s 10 worst list? Not only are Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Tyco and the rest indicative of a fundamentally corrupt financial system, they are representative of a rotten system of corporate dominance.
The full 10 Worst Corporations of 2002 list is available at http://www.multinationalmonitor.org.
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, and co-director of Essential Action. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.)