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2008 Corporate bad
November 25, 2008 1:51 AM   Subscribe

In the 20 years that we've published our annual list,
we've covered corporate villains, scoundrels, criminals and miscreants. We've reported on some really bad stuff - from Exxon's Valdez spill to Union Carbide and Dow's effort to avoid responsibility for the Bhopal disaster; from oil companies coddling dictators (including Chevron and CNPC, both profiled this year) to a bank (Riggs) providing financial services for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet; from oil and auto companies threatening the future of the planet by blocking efforts to address climate change to duplicitous tobacco companies marketing cigarettes around the world by associating their product with images of freedom, sports, youthful energy and good health. But we've never had a year like 2008.
( via ).

The people behind the facade. Only Dole does not list its management on its web page.
AIG: Money for Nothing.
Cargill: Food Profiteers.
Chevron: "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies".
Constellation Energy: Nuclear Operators.
CNPC: Fueling Violence in Darfur.
Dole: The Sour Taste of Pineapple.
GE: Creative Accounting.
Imperial Sugar: 13 Dead.
Philip Morris International: Unshackled.
Roche: Saving Lives is Not Our Business.
posted by adamvasco (37 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chevron-Texaco: Large-Format NiMH rechargable battery usable for cars: NOT YOURS.
posted by troy at 2:03 AM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]


Accounting education and aggressive shareholder participation are beautiful things. And not very difficult to grasp, to be honest...
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 2:06 AM on November 25, 2008


Not too big to fail.
posted by wobh at 2:55 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I saw the beginning of the previous post about "chuggers", didn't see its comments link, and clicked this one by mistake...

The first line in the list being AIG blended right in.
posted by qvantamon at 3:14 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the section on Cargill:

Thirty years ago, most developing countries produced enough food to feed themselves [CHECK].

Oops. Anyone who can check this?
posted by wtdoor at 4:17 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


This sort of simplistic. Cargill exploiting the food situation to make money. Its called the food business. Listen, I'm not a corporate apologist, but all corporate activities are fraught with ambiguity, just like life. Almost every single one of the downsides mentioned have a corresponding upside. I'm not outraged.
posted by sfts2 at 5:05 AM on November 25, 2008


I'm not outraged.

Then you're not paying attention.
The toxic by-product of the Reagan Revolution is the misbegotten concept that big corporations are a benevolant part of society. Left to thier own accord they have proven themselves time and again to be just the opposite. Just because they do some good does not give them a pass on all the bad they do. And the Supply Side line of "business is business" should hold as much water in the court of public opinion as the defense "boys will be boys" does in a court of law.
posted by ElvisJesus at 5:49 AM on November 25, 2008 [15 favorites]


The point of this list is that the Government passes rules to benefit society, and when companies change those rules to enrich themselves while impoverishing, enslaving or physically injuring/sickening millions who don't have lobbyists with K-Street connections, it's immoral bordering on evil. They need to have a bright light shined their way. It may be a futile gesture, but even that's better than quiet acquiescence.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:00 AM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]



Oops. Anyone who can check this?


I seem to remember Ethiopia being in the news alot when I was a kid. Is that one of the countries not covered by "most"?
posted by spicynuts at 6:24 AM on November 25, 2008


It may be a futile gesture, but even that is better than quiet acquiescence.

I will never in my entire life understand this (widely held) attitude. There is so much useful work to be done -- must you spend your time tilting at windmills?
posted by tkolar at 6:30 AM on November 25, 2008


"i'm not outraged" is the reason these corporations and others like them own your government.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:33 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thirty years ago, most developing countries produced enough food to feed themselves [CHECK]

Yeah, you might want to check again. 30 years ago (i.e. 1978) the United States fed the entire developing world. Recall that in the 80's we were exporting wheat to the Soviet Union. The reason corn and other ag commodity prices were so high is the same exact reason oil and copper prices were high - they are a dollar denominated (or dollar dominated) market at a time when the dollar was collapsing. Add to that the ridiculous use of corn as fuel, and there's your price spike.

But I want to highlight how this little [CHECK] typo reflects the shitty writing by this person at alternet. You don't write down whatever random bullshit random argument you want with a note to yourself to find a supporting cite later. There's always a supporting cite for any cockamamie argument you want to make. Any data can be twisted or contorted. That's high school term paper bullshit where you sit down the night before and compose the essay and furiously scan textbook indexes for footnote padding.

You read the data first, all the data or as much of it as is humanly possible, then you develop your thesis. Reading all of the data reveals the shape of the world to you, and then you develop the argument that explains it or predicts it. Was $140 oil really peak oil (value increase) or was it currency fluctuation/speculation (i.e. price inflation). Well, oil is $50, so I guess it isn't peak oil right now, is it?

In other words you want a theory that explains and captures as much of reality as possible. You don't start by bullshitting and find something to back it up.

I've seen this kind of sloppy argumentation a lot over the years. And I've seen a lot of people get fired for it.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:40 AM on November 25, 2008 [16 favorites]


I will never in my entire life understand this (widely held) attitude. There is so much useful work to be done -- must you spend your time tilting at windmills?

Much of the useful work to be done involves harnessing the benefits of the windmills for the masses while mitigating the potenential to have uncontrolled windmills blow the masses off the cliff. Call it tilting if you will. I prefer progressivism.
posted by ElvisJesus at 6:42 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


ElvisJesus, Its hard to dispute such a cogent and well-reasoned argument.
posted by sfts2 at 6:42 AM on November 25, 2008


Thirty years ago, most developing countries had in place mechanisms aimed at maintaining a relatively constant price for food commodities. Tariffs on imports protected local farmers from fluctuations in global food prices. Government-run grain purchasing boards paid above-market prices for farm goods when prices were low, and required farmers to sell below-market when prices were high. The idea was to give farmers some certainty over price, and to keep food affordable for consumers. Governments also provided a wide set of support services for farmers, giving them advice on new crop and growing technologies and, in some countries, helping set up cooperative structures.

This was not a perfect system by any means, but it looks pretty good in retrospect.


Is this what the Obama victory represents to some people, the hope that we can finally achieve true socialism in America? The current system keeps Americans and Europeans very well-fed. Food here is cheap, even those government subsidies actually inflate the price. A dozen eggs costs a dollar. In-season fruits and vegetables cost functionally nothing, and out of season they aren't prohibitively expensive either. Meat is insanely cheap.

Now maybe these aren't the prices inother places in the world, but I would argue that has more to do with "tariffs on imports" and moronically managed government run price control boards that in an effort to lower the price of domestically grown food inadvertently discourage farmers from actually growing any food. In other words, the system that establishes food prices here and in Europe isn't really in effect in the rest of the world.

Case in point: corn in 2008. When corn was at it's peak, manay developing countries forbade their local farmers from exporting corn to the global market, under the theory that the local population could not afford those prices. The hope (and that's all it was, hope divorced from any understanding of freshman economics) was that be prohibiting export, the price of corn would find a lower market price internally than externally.

Except that farmers stopped growing corn, because they still have to water it, plow it, fertilize it, etc, and that costs money that they couldn't recoup. So the local population didn't get their food, and local farmers were rendered poor. So nice going.

It's true that the us food industry produces a lot of unhealthy shit as well. But that is a function of consumer choice. You choose Doritos over tomatoes. They don't force you to make that choice.

The objective is not to have every nation feed itself. National borders are based on politics and history, not agricultural efficiency. That's outdated collectivist thinking. The objective should be to have everyone on earth be able to feed themselves. If that means Indians buy poultry from Americans who buy rice from the Chinese, who cares, as long as no one is starving. By grouping everyone by nation, you introduce political and geographical inefficiencies that will guarantee that some people in every nation don't eat, and that everyone else pays more than they need to.

What we should be unwinding now is corporate cronyism and profligate govt and consumer spending. We don't need to repeal the free market, because the free market actually works, even in agriculture. No government can control prices. Marijuana is an agricultural product and the most powerful government on earth has been trying to ban it for a century. Yet there is still a healthy free market for it.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:02 AM on November 25, 2008 [5 favorites]


I seem to remember Ethiopia being in the news alot when I was a kid. Is that one of the countries not covered by "most"?

The complicated bit about Ethiopia was that there, like in other poverty-stricken areas, it wasn't as simple as "there wasn't enough food". In Ethiopia, there was actually more food than you thought -- what was complicating things was that you had the big rich fat cats and government muckity-mucks rolling in, siezing a lot of it, and carting it away and saying, "we'll take this, thanks," before the rest of it was distributed to everyone else. This was even happening with a lot of the food aid that was sent.

Same thing with the Irish Famine in the 1800's -- there was actually food being grown in Ireland, it's just that that food was meant for export to other areas, and the government went to great lengths to ensure that it stayed that way.

If Parliament had decided that "whoo, all the working class folks' potatoes have died, maybe we should leave some of the beef, barley, pork, carrots, etc. there for THEM to have?", or if the Ethiopian government had sat on their hands and distributed food equally, the famines in both places wouldn't have been as bad.

But I am not pointing fingers strictly at those two governments, because this actually is true of nearly all famines. Many of them are aggravated by the powers-that-be taking a large share of what is available, and leaving the rest of the country in the lurch.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Another great post from adamvasco! [CHECK]
posted by Mapes at 7:31 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The original article is from the "Multinational Monitor", not alternet.

Being outraged, much like tilting at windmills, is inefficient. But it is great cocktail party fodder.

It's hyperbole. Hyperbole and inaccuracies, I tell you. I'm outraged! I'm outraged at the article. Or the posts in this thread. Or both. Outraged, I say! I will now hold my breath until my face turns (metafilter) blue.
posted by lothar at 7:33 AM on November 25, 2008


This is one of those discussions that I find so confusing. The conclusion I have to draw from reading this is that because Alternet's article is poorly written and unsourced, all its points must be ignored. Further, the US are well-known assholes, but fruit is cheap at home so why should we care. We like Doritos. It's very complex, but it works pretty well (as long as you ignore oppressive government, immoral profiteering, and starving populations) so leave it alone. People who cry foul must want the US to be socialist with Prince Hussein Obama carrying our banner. Europeans are saints who have nothing to do with this mess.

Clearly something is not working. Large numbers of people should not be starving. Multinational corporations whose only interest is short-term profit for the top dogs should not be dictating US, let alone *world* policy, agricultural or anything else.

So, someone explain to me what the true problem is. Someone point me to reasonable, well-sourced papers and opinions that describe an equitable solution. Cite away!
posted by nax at 7:45 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


THE solution
posted by ElvisJesus at 8:05 AM on November 25, 2008


The current system keeps Americans and Europeans very well-fed. Food here is cheap, even those government subsidies actually inflate the price. A dozen eggs costs a dollar. In-season fruits and vegetables cost functionally nothing, and out of season they aren't prohibitively expensive either. Meat is insanely cheap.

Do the government subsidies you're talking about include energy subsidies? Last time I checked energy was a bigger factor than anything else when it comes to food prices. Or is that not the case?
posted by symbollocks at 8:13 AM on November 25, 2008


So, someone explain to me what the true problem is. Someone point me to reasonable, well-sourced papers and opinions that describe an equitable solution.

Rhizome: An Alternative Mode of Human Organization

Rhizome takes it name from plants such as bamboo, aspen, or ginger that spread via a connected underground root system. As metaphor, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari used rhizome to refer to a non-hierarchal form of organization. I have extended this metaphor, refering to rhizome as an alternative mode of human organization consisting of a network of minimally self-sufficient nodes that leverage non-hierarchal coordination of economic activity. The two keys concepts in my formulation of rhizome are 1) minimal self-sufficiency, which eliminates the dependencies that accrete hierarchy, and 2) loose and dynamic networking that uses the "small worlds" theory of network information processing to allow rhizome to overcome information processing burdens that normally overburden hierarchies.

Rhizome operates as the central metaphor of this blog, connecting the diverse themes of energy & peak oil (arguing that a rhizomatic organization is the most practicable solution to low-energy social coordination), geopolitics & terrorism (as emergent non-state actors tend to embody many of rhizome's organizational principles), to philosophy (arguing that rhizomatic organization is more compatible with humanity's genetic ontogeny than the currently dominant hierarchal mode).

posted by symbollocks at 8:21 AM on November 25, 2008


Much of the useful work to be done involves harnessing the benefits of the windmills for the masses while mitigating the potenential to have uncontrolled windmills blow the masses off the cliff.

WINDMILLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!

/Morbo
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:43 AM on November 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


ummm ... that would be allegory that's whizzing past the top of your head
posted by ElvisJesus at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2008


That Constellation bit is the dumbest piece of journalism I've read today. A big part of the lawsuits stem from incompetence and shortsightedness by the Maryland legislature and the Public Service Commission.

When things finally hit the fan, they all threw up their hands and said "How could you possibly expect us to know what we're doing? We're simple country politicians, not sophisticated, fast talking corporate energy types".

I suspect their inclusion on the list was more because they operate a big scary nuclear power plant, not because of any specific malfeasance. I was just as pissed as everyone else about the huge jump in electricity rates and having had paid an additional surcharge for the depreciation of the energy infrastructure, but that's more appropriately aimed at the politicians that made a bad deal they didn't understand, rather than the company who everyone *knows* is out just to make a profit.
posted by electroboy at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2008


Thanks for the post, adamvasco. Uh-oh... I feel a rant coming on... oh no! Argh... /begin rant

I think a corporation has a good side and a bad side. Most people at leisure to read this are probably on the good side, benefiting indirectly from other people (and their resources) being on the bad side, "guilty" of what J. K. Galbraith called "Innocent Fraud". FYI, almost any product will contain x percent injustice which has been carried out by people who got their hands dirty for the end user (rewarded by huge bonuses). At any rate, I wouldn't expect ethical concerns to get any priority when there's money to be made, a job to get done, and less squeamish competitors everywhere.

People won't really care about that, though, while they must play in this game of "who's got prettier stuff" (What's my name? Fuck you, that's my name. I typed this on a diamond studded tungsten laptop, and am clearly worth more than you.) Also, there's this whole totally engrossing fantasy world of news, entertainment, celebrities, pop stars... makes you feel you really know what's going on. The time spent by any given citizen in said fantasy world, I'm guessing, is about equal to the time it would take the same to inform themselves enough to participate in a democracy as much as it would be needed to really sort out shit.

If the state of the world makes you feel bad, or you feel that you really deserve to make up for those tons of soul-destroying work that you did, why not consider some "retail therapy" (some would say without the quotes)?

/rant

Polemic outrage or not, if you want examples of bad corporate behaviour, with interviews ranging from Milton Friedman to Michael Moore, watch that Canadian documentary "The Corporation" (Google video, youtube,...) Apologies for length.
posted by yoHighness at 10:29 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, someone explain to me what the true problem is. Someone point me to reasonable, well-sourced papers and opinions that describe an equitable solution. Cite away!
posted by nax at 10:45 AM on November 25


The problem is right there in your sentence. Define "equitable." Because the percentage of people who are classified as "hungry" by the UN is about 850 million, or roughly 14 percent. That is of course, too many, but the world already produces more that enough food to feed everyone. The problem is poverty, not food. There are 982 million people living in poverty (less than $1 a day).

Perversely, there are over 1 billion overweight people in the world.

People need to stop this collective, nationally focused thinking and start thinking as individuals or family units. The problem is not that Americans have food and Ethiopians don't. The problem is that some Ethiopians have too much food and wealth and other Ethiopians have none.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:47 AM on November 25, 2008


WINDMILLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!

I must have installed mine wrong.
posted by nax at 10:54 AM on November 25, 2008


Pastabagel, exactly my problem. It seems obvious to me that "equitable" means at the very base, me and my family (and you and your family, and Abdul and his family, etc.) have enough to eat. I'll take it a step further and add basic human rights-- public education, decent sanitation, reasonable life expectancy, freedom from violence. I'll take it a step further and add quality of life: electricity at the flick of a switch, something pretty to hang on my wall, a change of clothes.

But the more I read about financial, political, corporate, whatever, problems, the more I think I'm hopelessly naive and that the problem is hopelessly complex and that there are one hundred reasons why no solution is the right one, and in fact that no combination of solutions is correct. And we all just stick out heads up our asses and do nothing.

So I'll change the query a little bit. I can't go out and save Africa. I won't be leaving Chicago. But I'm a rich American (not being facetious) and I want things to change. I want Mary in WestVa and Abdul in Mosul and everyone else be able to feed their family and send their kids to be in school and buy something nice for their mother in law, like I can. I think there are a lot of people like me. So--what *can* we do?
posted by nax at 11:04 AM on November 25, 2008


colbert interviews a crazy man who says he can solve hunger and global warming at the same time!
posted by Glibpaxman at 11:08 AM on November 25, 2008


Pastabagel, your comment isn't in the nature of posts that end up on the sidebar, but that deserves to be on a plaque in some prominent location.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:27 AM on November 25, 2008


30 years ago (i.e. 1978) the United States fed the entire developing world. What???
posted by Bitter soylent at 12:24 PM on November 25, 2008


What! no MONSANTO?
posted by liza at 12:30 PM on November 25, 2008


Thanks for a good link!
posted by ahimsakid at 12:34 PM on November 25, 2008


From the Constellation section:

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 pay.

Constellation's tussle with the Maryland legislature is fascinating - a big company convinced the legislators to hand it a giant wad of cash (hrm, sounds familiar), which it happily accepted. Later, the legislators discovered, to their horror, that they'd handed a big wad of cash to a big company for no good reason.

Horrible, yes. A poor reflection on nuclear power? No.
posted by yath at 1:29 PM on November 25, 2008


“This sort of simplistic. Cargill exploiting the food situation to make money. Its called the food business.”

I’d be happy to privatize and monopolize your water supply. I could charge $6 a gallon for water. Call it the water business.

Is this specific stuff/argument/article(s) simplistic? Yeah, it is, I agree.

But the concept is by no means simple.

One method by which one makes a profit is to instill chaos in an opponent or system and exploit that chaos.
So -
1. leverage key points in a market (information on how the underpants market will respond to ‘x’ pressure, say)
2. push there enough to foster instability in a market - the elastic waistband shortage, say.
3. profit. And from a fluctuation/instability you yourself created.

As it so happens, it’s food, so perhaps people starve. Perhaps wars break out over scarcity (which might be good for your stock in the weapons trade).

I’m no economist, so maybe I’m wrong, but all that aside - the question must be - how much human suffering is worth what percentage of profit?

Should corporations only care about their bottom lines?
If so, it seems to me we will ever faster rush to get to that point the Cree were talking about where the last tree has died and the last fish has been caught and we realize we can’t eat money.

“Perversely, there are over 1 billion overweight people in the world.”

Perversely, I’m one of them.
It’s funny that I’m not fat, and yet, by this definition, I am overweight. I have a great deal of muscle mass and a high calorie intake.
On the other hand, I suspect farmers that work all day in the fields probably eat as much as I do.

I suppose what I’m saying is there’s a difference between useful and efficient calories (I don’t eat McDonalds) and inefficent abuse of the glut of food thrust there by marketing and consumerism.

But yeah, it'd be nice if this were addressed with a little less English on it.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:41 PM on November 25, 2008


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 pay.

You can't just say NUCLEAR ENERGY BAD without providing some sort of evidence or figures. It is in use by far too many people, in too many countries, for you to simply take it as a given that it's a bad idea. In fact, it's such a non-given that this one line was enough to ruin this article's credibility to me.

It's not that you can't make the argument that nuclear power is bad, and it may in fact be the truth, but you have to at least try to prove that sort of thing.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:18 PM on November 25, 2008


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