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E-M:/ Fwd: [corp-focus] The 10 Worst Corporations of 2004

Robert Weissman <rob@essential.org> wrote:
From: Robert Weissman
To: corp-focus@lists.essential.org
Subject: [corp-focus] The 10 Worst Corporations of 2004
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005 01:02:59 -0500

The 10 Worst Corporations of 2004
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

When the Multinational Monitor judges gather to pick the 10 worst
corporations of the year, one of their instructions is: name no
companies that appeared on the previous year's list (barring
extraordinary circumstances).

For the 2004 list, that means no Bayer (even though in 2004 the company
pushed for import of genetically modified rice into the European Union,
polluted water in a South African town with the carcinogen hexavalent
chromium, and was hit with evidence that its pain medication Aleve
(naproxen) increases the risk of heart attack, among other egregious
acts), no Boeing (despite new evidence that the tanker plane scandal
costing U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars is even worse than it
appeared), no Clear Channel (even though the radio behemoth in 2004
stooped to new lows with a "Breast Christmas Ever" contest that promised
to pay for breast implants for a dozen contest "winners"), and no
Halliburton (embroiled in a whole new set of contracting fraud and
bribery charges in 2004).

But at least the no-repeat rule helps limit the field a bit.

And there remained plenty of worthy candidates.

Of the remaining pool of price gougers, polluters, union-busters,
dictator-coddlers, fraudsters, poisoners, deceivers and general
miscreants, we chose the following -- presented in alphabetical order --
as the 10 Worst Corporations of 2004 [full text available at

Abbott Laboratories: Abbott makes the list for raising the price of
Norvir, an important AIDS drug, developed with a major infusion of U.S.
government funds, by 400 percent. The price increase doesn't apply if
Norvir is purchased in conjunction with another Abbott drug, giving
Abbott an unfair advantage over competitors and tilting consumers to use
the Abbott products on the basis of price.

AIG: The world's largest insurer, American International Group Inc.
(AIG) was charged in October with aiding and abetting PNC Financial
Services in a fraudulent transaction to transfer $750 million in mostly
troubled loans and venture capital investments from subsidiaries off of
its books. AIG agreed to pay $126 million to resolve the charges, but it
got off light, entering into a "deferred prosecution agreement" --
meaning the charges against the company will be dropped in 12 months
time if it abides by the terms of the agreement.

Coca-Cola: Workers at the Coke bottling plant in Colombia have been
terrorized for years by right-wing paramilitary forces. A fact-finding
mission headed by a New York City Council member found, among other
abuses, "there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of
Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union
activists have been abducted and tortured." Coke says it opposes the
anti-union violence and in any case that it hasn't had control of the
bottling plant (though it does now, after purchasing the Colombian
bottling company). Coke's former general counsel, and the former
assistant U.S. attorney general, Deval Patrick, resigned in 2004,
reportedly in part because Coke refused to support an independent
investigation into the Colombia allegations.

Dow Chemical: The world's largest plastic maker, Dow purchased Union
Carbide in 1999. At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal
gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India,
immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of
others. Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children
born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from
exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage,
chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness. Dow refuses to take any
responsibility. In a statement, the company says, "Although Dow never
owned nor operated the plant, we -- along with the rest of industry --
have learned from this tragic event, and we have tried to do all we can
to assure that similar incidents never happen again."

GlaxoSmithKline: Following revelations and regulatory action in the UK
in 2003 and 2004, the story of the severe side effects from Glaxo's
Paxil (as well as other drugs in the same family) -- notably that they
are addictive and lead to increased suicidality in youth -- finally
broke in the United States in 2004. In June, New York Attorney General
Eliot Spitzer filed suit against Glaxo, charging the giant drug maker
with suppressing evidence of Paxil's harm to children, and misleading
physicians. Glaxo denied the charges, but agreed to a new system whereby
it would make public results all of its clinical trials. In October, the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Glaxo and makers of drugs in
Paxil's class to include a "black box" warning -- the agency's strongest
-- with their pills.

Hardee's: The fast-food maker is bragging about how unhealthy is its
latest culinary invention, the Monster Thickburger: "First there were
burgers. Then there were Thickburgers. Now Hardee's is introducing the
mother of all burgers -- the Monster Thickburger. Weighing in at
two-thirds of a pound, this 100 percent Angus beef burger is a monument
to decadence." The Monster Thickburger is a 1,420-calorie sandwich.
Eating one Thickburger is like eating two Big Macs or five McDonald's
hamburgers. Add 600 calories worth of Hardee's fries and you get more
than the 2,000 calories that many people should eat in a whole day,
according to Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, which calls the Thickburger "food porn."

Merck: Dr. David Graham, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug
safety official, calls it "maybe the single greatest drug-safety
catastrophe in the history of this country." Testifying before a Senate
committee in November, Dr. David Graham put the number in the United
States who had suffered heart attacks or stroke as result of taking the
arthritis drug Vioxx in the range of 88,000 to 139,000. As many as 40
percent of these people, or about 35,000-55,000, died as a result,
Graham said. The unacceptable cardiovascular risks of Vioxx were evident
as early as 2000 -- a full four years before the drug was finally
withdrawn from the market by its manufacturer, Merck, according to a
study released by The Lancet, the British medical journal. Merck says it
disclosed all relevant evidence on Vioxx safety as soon as it acquired
it, and pulled the drug as soon as it saw conclusive evidence of the
drug's dangers.

McWane: McWane Inc. is a large, privately held Alabama-based sewer and
water pipe manufacturer. In a devastating series, the New York Times
revealed the company's egregious safety record, and the utter failure of
regulatory agencies to control the company's workplace violence. Nine
McWane employees have lost their lives in workplace accidents since 1995
-- and three of the deaths were the result of deliberate company
violations of safety standards. More than 4,600 injuries were recorded
among the company's 5,000 employees. According to the Times, McWane
pulled the wool over the eyes of investigators by stalling them at the
factory gates, and then hiding defective equipment. Accident sites were
altered before investigators could inspect them, in violation of federal
rules. When government enforcement officials did find serious
violations, the Times reported, "the punishment meted out by the federal
government was so minimal that McWane could treat it as simply a cost of
doing business."

Riggs Bank: An explosive report from the U.S. Senate Permanent
Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs,
issued in July, revealed that the Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank
illegally operated bank accounts for former Chilean dictator Augusto
Pinochet, and routinely ignored evidence of corrupt practices in
managing more than 60 accounts for the government of Equatorial Guinea.
Although these and other activities seem to violate U.S. banking rules,
the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) did not take
enforcement action against the bank after it learned of these matters in
2002. That presumably was not unrelated to the fact that the OCC
examiner at Riggs soon thereafter went to work for Riggs. In May 2004,
the bank paid $25 million in fines in connection with money-laundering
violations related to the Equatorial Guinea and Saudi Arabian
governments, and it is the subject of ongoing federal criminal

Wal-Mart: While Wal-Mart is presently on a bit of a public relations
defensive, the company remains the colossus of U.S. -- and increasingly
global -- retailing. It registers more than a quarter trillion dollars
in sales. Its revenues account for 2 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic
Product. For two years running, Fortune has named Wal-Mart the most
admired company in America. It is arguably the defining company of the
present era. A key component -- arguably the key component -- of the
company's business model is undercompensating employees and
externalizing costs on to society. A February 2004 report issued by
Representative George Miller, D-California, tabulated some of those
costs. The report estimated that one 200-person Wal-Mart store may
result in a cost to federal taxpayers of $420,750 per year -- about
$2,103 per employee. These public costs include free and reduced lunches
for just 50 qualifying Wal-Mart families, Section 8 housing assistance,
federal tax credits and deductions for low-income families, and federal
contributions to health insurance programs for low-income children.

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 counsel for Essential
Inventions, a nonprofit involved in the pricing dispute discussed in the
Abbott profile. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage:
Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine:
Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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