2016 Top 10 Corporate Criminals

2016 Top 10 Corporate Criminals

Many corporations are complicit in violating human rights and the environment. As the free trade market continues to push forward the global economy, holding corporations accountable for their poor practices becomes difficult. Unfortunately, corporations are working harder than ever to cover abuses instead of preventing them.

This does not have to be the reality. People can use their purchasing power to endorse Fair Trade, pressure companies to do the right thing, and boycott those that violate human rights and the environment. In doing so there is potential to pressure these companies to put people and planet ahead of profits.

Global Exchange has compiled a list of  “most wanted” corporations of 2016 based on issues like unlivable working conditions, low pay, violations of human rights and voting rights, climate change denial, and environmental destruction, just to name a few.

Four corporations, Koch Industries, McDonald’s, Chevron and Monsanto were on earlier lists but are included again, as the corporate behavior of these companies reached egregious levels in 2016 and merited repeat attention.

The Ten Top Corporate Criminals list is a guide to what companies like Energy Transfer Partners, Exxon Mobil, H&M and others are doing to undermine human rights and the environment. Share the list with friends, family, and co-workers. Use the Take Action section to add your voice and increase the pressure.

We at Global Exchange encourage you to exercise your power as a global citizen to promote social justice and defend the Earth.

The List

1. Energy Transfer Partners for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
2. Corrections Corporation Of America (CCA) for profiting off the incarceration of American citizens and immigrants.
3. DESA (Desarrollos Energéticos S.A.) for the construction of dams on Indigenous Lenca lands in Honduras.
4. Exxon Mobil for suppressing climate science and delaying action on global warming for decades.
5. Koch Industries for investing $889 million to sway the outcome of 2016 Congressional races. This is an update from 2015.
6. McDonald’s Corporation for unfair pay practices. This is an update from 2015.
7. PepsiCo for violating worker rights, along with destroying rainforests, harming local communities and Indigenous Peoples’ lands, and causing massive greenhouse gas emissions by draining and burning peatlands for production of palm oil.
8. Chevron for its refusal to clean up the Amazon.
9. H&M for its failure to ensure the safety of workers in Bangladesh.
10. Monsanto for the development of genetically engineered wheat.
Dis-Honorable Mention (Backslider): Dunkin’ Donuts

1. Energy Transfer Partners

On September 3, 2016, viewers of Pacifica’s Democracy Now! program were shocked to see private security guards from the Dakota Access Pipeline attacking demonstrators with dogs and pepper spray as they protested the pipeline’s construction.

Earlier, on July 26th, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had learned that the US. Army Corps of Engineers had given its approval for the $3.78 billion pipeline to run within a half-mile of the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota — without proper consultation with or consent of the tribe.

The pipeline is to be built, owned and operated by Texas-based, Energy Transfer Partners (along with Sunoco Logistics). Seventeen banks, led by Citibank, are providing financing for the project.

The pipeline is supposed to stretch from North Dakota to a market hub in Illinois, and from there another pipeline is to ship the oil to the gulf coast for Asian export. It would deliver up to 570,000 barrels of what the company calls its “light, sweet crude,” fracked in North Dakota’s Bakken and Three Forks fields.

The pipeline is to cross 209 rivers, creeks and tributaries, including the nations longest river, the Missouri, which is the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s main source of drinking and irrigation water. It will also destroy tribal burial grounds and sacred sites.

The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition representing farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, student and local community organizations along the pipeline route as well as nationwide, has been fighting the pipeline since late 2014. On August 25, just days before the September 3rd assault, more than 30 national and tribal environmental organizations had joined together to write President Obama a letter calling on President Obama to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And on September 9, minutes after a federal judge declined the Tribe’s request for an injunction to stop construction on the pipeline, the Obama administration made a surprise announcement that it would not permit the project to continue for now. Continued action is essential to keep the pipeline from being built.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/08/15/dakota-access-pipeline-standoff-mni-wiconi-water-life-165470

2. Corrections Corporation Of America (CCA)

As the Center for Media and Democracy has written, “Private prison companies are m aking a killing off today’s broken and discriminatory criminal justice system. Industry giants like CCA rake in billions in profit each year from locking disproportionately black and brown people in some of the country’s most dangerous prisons.”

U.S. federal and state policies have led to a dramatic rise in incarceration and detention in the U.S. since the 1980’s. Half of all state prison inmates have been there for nonviolent crimes, and half of inmates in federal prisons are incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

CCA and other private prison corporations have profited from this surge – but also have worked to increase “demand” by lobbying Congress and federal agencies – about $21.1 million during 1998-2014.

CCA’s strategies to increase profits including keeping wages and benefits for workers low, resulting in high employee turnover, insufficient training, and chronic understaffing. This leads to mistreatment of inmates, security concerns, riots, increased violence – and dangerous conditions for correction staff. CCA has also become notorious for inadequate nutrition and withholding medical care for inmates.

At the same time, the American Immigration Council reports that “discriminatory laws are criminalizing an ever broadening swath of the immigrant population… Immigrants who experience even the slightest brush with the criminal justice system, such as being convicted of a misdemeanor, can find themselves subject to detention for an undetermined period, after which they are expelled from the country and barred from returning. In other words, for years the government has been redefining what it means to be a ‘criminal alien,’ using increasingly stringent definitions and standards of ‘criminality’ that do not apply to U.S. citizens.”

Private prisons have played a key role in expanding ICE’s capacity to hold migrants. For-profit prison operators, including the biggest, CCA, controlled 62 percent of immigration detention beds in 2014.

Global Exchange recognizes the Obama Administration’s recent directive to stop using private contractors to incarcerate federal prisoners as a small, but important, step in the right direction. Moreover on August 29, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security announced it will re-examine its use of private prison corporations to hold immigration detainees. But increased public pressure is essential to get private contractors out of the prison business altogether.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander;

3. DESA (Desarrollos Energéticos S.A.)

Since 2006, Honduran hydroelectric power company Desarrollos Energéticos(DESA), along with Sinohydro (a Chinese company), and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, has made preparations for four hydroelectric dams on rivers sacred to the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras. The Lenca people depend on these rivers for their subsistence. Without consulting the Lenca, construction on the Agua Zarca dam on the Río Gualcarque began in 2012, and in 2013 river access was blocked, after which the Lenca started to protest. “DESA’s private security guards and the Honduran military responded with a campaign of violence and intimidation.”The Intercept

In March 2013, during a peaceful protest at the dam office Tomas Garcia was shot and killed, and in March 2016 Berta Cáceres, an internationally known Lenca woman, and Goldman Prize winner, who had organized the defense of the Gualcarque River, was shot and killed in her home.

Harassment of COPINH members continues, as does their struggle to protect their lands.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:

4. Exxon Mobil

In the late 1970’s Exxon Mobil scientists reported to their own corporate management that carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would increase global temperatures drastically and wreak havoc on the planet and its inhabitants.

By the late 1980’s Exxon Mobil scaled down its research and instead began to suppress evidence from its own scientists that climate change was real and was caused by human activity, especially fossil fuels. Exxon began a major effort to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions and helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation on climate change that stands to this day.

In October 2015, these actions were revealed in a joint report by the Los Angeles Times and Columbia University’s Energy & Environmental Reporting Project, along with separate articles in InsideClimate News.

As Mark Hertsgaard wrote in The Nation, “the oil giant has in effect transferred massive amounts of risk and loss onto the rest of the market and virtually every business enterprise in it. By confusing the debate, Exxon helped delay government action against climate change. The company made buckets of money, but the resulting higher temperatures and extreme weather events have cost investors, governments, businesses, and ordinary people many billions, with much larger costs ahead.”

But Exxon and their allies are not giving up without a fight – invoking free speech rights in an aggressive pushback against 18 state Attorney Generals who are seeking decades of internal Exxon documents on climate change. The company argues that the state-level investigations violate the First Amendment rights of those who question climate science.

Take Action with these organizations:

Learn more:

5. Koch Industries

Koch Industries first appeared on the 2014 and again in 2015 Most Wanted list. This is an update.

In 2015, Global Exchange highlighted Koch’s major funding of the Institute for Energy Research and other lobbying groups to stifle the EPA’s Clean Energy Plan by enlisting a group of conservative governors.

This election year Koch Industries is focusing on Congressional campaigns, aiming to defeat environmentalist candidates like Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. The NY Times reports that “twice as many Koch network dollars will be in play in 2016 than were in play in 2012: $889 million, only slightly less than the $1 billion that the Democratic and Republican national committees each expect to spend on the election.”

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:
Jane Mayer’s explosive book Dark Money, about the Kochs,http://kochcash.org/
Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition by Brave New Films.
Democracy Now episode on Koch and Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence.

6. McDonald’s Corporation

McDonald’s Corporation first appeared on the 2015 Most Wanted list. This is an update.

McDonald’s has had a long history of practices such as unpaid overtime, mis-recording of timecards to reduce pay, failure to pay the minimum wage, and failure to pay wages owed to employees who quit or were fired. Payscale.com found that in 2016 the average national salary for a non-managerial fast food worker at McDonald’s was $7.13-$9.14.

In July 2016, one of several lawsuits filed in recent years accusing McDonald’s of unfair pay practices was granted federal class-action status, which is often the only practical and affordable way to sue when many people are affected. The development is another step forward in the battle for fair pay for low-wage workers that began in 2012 with a walkout by fast-food employees in New York City and mushroomed into a national movement. In documenting the alleged violations, the lawsuit goes back to 2010 and asserts that most of the practices continue today. Meanwhile, continuing public pressure on McDonald’s by the public is essential.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:

7. PepsiCo

Workers on palm oil plantations are being exploited daily to make palm oil for cheap snack foods like those made by PepsiCo. The company has failed over and over again to take meaningful action and address its problems in its palm oil supply chain.

A recent report by Rainforest Action Network, OPPUK and the International Labor Rights Forum shows that PepsiCo’s partner Indofood has cheated its workers out of fair pay and benefits, threatened workers’ health with toxic chemicals, and compelled workers to hire children and bring their spouses to work through an unjust wage system.

Pepsico is charged with violating worker rights, along with destroying rainforests, harming local communities and Indigenous Peoples’ lands, and causing massive greenhouse gas emissions by draining and burning of peatlands for production of palm oil.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:  The Human Cost of Conflict Palm Oil (RAN) 

8. Chevron

Chevron first appeared on the 2014 Corporate Criminals list. This is an update.

While drilling for oil in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest region, Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – operated without concern for the environment or local residents. The company deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, spilled millions of gallons of crude oil, and abandoned hazardous waste in hundreds of unlined open-air pits littered throughout the region. The result is widespread devastation of the rainforest ecosystem and local indigenous communities, and one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

Due to Chevron’s toxic contamination of the soil, rivers and streams, and groundwater, local indigenous and campesino communities continue to suffer an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and other ailments.

Chevron has never carried out a meaningful clean up of the mess it is responsible for, and its infrastructure continues to poison the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon. 

On August 18, 2016, a U.S. appeals court blocked the enforcement of a U.S. $9.5-billion judgment against Chevron Corporation brought by a group of Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples. The appeals court ruling upheld a lower court ruling that had found that a pollution judgment against the U.S. oil major in Ecuador was the product of fraud and racketeering, and therefore, unenforceable in the U.S.

As Amazon Watch points out, “this decision is unprecedented in American law for many reasons but, most urgently, because it empowers corporations to criminalize efforts to hold them accountable for the messes they make, whether here or elsewhere.”

Chevron/Texaco has yet to be held accountable for the damage it has caused in the Amazon.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:

9. H&M

In May 2016, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Worker Rights Consortium issued a joint statement regarding H&M, “An analysis of the latest safety action plans for H&M’s strategic suppliers in Bangladesh reveals that three years after the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1,134 workers producing apparel for global brands and retailers, the majority of H&M’s factories are still not safe.”

There are some signs of progress: almost all of H&M’s suppliers now have some fire doors installed and H&M has increased the level of detail it provides in its public reporting. However, H&M is still not indicating acceptance of real responsibility, continues to provide its customers with misleading information and, according to the company’s own data, 61% of the company’s supplier factories still do not have all required fire doors installed.

This means that hundreds of thousands of workers in these factories are at risk of injury or death should a major fire occur.”

Urge H&M to ensure the required safety repairs at its suppliers in Bangladesh so that there are no more Rana Plazas.

Take action with these organizations:

Learn more:

10. Monsanto

Monsanto first appeared on the 2014 Corporate Criminals list. This is an update.

Wheat, a staple crop which is grown on more acreage than any other crop and is the main source of calories for 20% of the world’s population, is now at risk. Biotechnology companies led by Monsanto are in the process of developing varieties of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered wheat. The resulting increase in use of pesticides and fertilizers will lead to the deterioration of soil health, loss of key pollinators, risks to human health, and water pollution. As wheat is the top traded commodity worldwide, the introduction of GE wheat would put the economic sustainability of the entire U.S. wheat supply at risk. Just over half of all U.S. production is sold abroad, most in countries with strong opposition to GMOs. Organic and non-GE wheat sold for U.S. consumption will also be threatened, due the ease of field-to-field contamination.

On September 14, 2016, the German pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer agreed to buy Monsanto for $66 billion dollars. If approved by regulators around the world, it would create a vast conglomerate combining pharmaceuticals, pesticides and “high tech” crops.

Join the growing movement to stop Genetically Engineered wheat.

Take action with this organization:

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Dis-Honorable Mention (Backslider): Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ is the largest retailer of coffee by the cup in America. For over a decade, Dunkin’s espresso beans have been certified Fair Trade – guaranteeing a minimum price per pound of coffee, plus a premium that farmer cooperatives can use to support their community. But all of that is about to change. Dunkin’ recently told the farmers it is ending its purchase of Fair Trade coffee (as reported by Green America).  That puts farmers at a big risk. The loss of the premium alone could result in farmers losing $2.4 million per year – funds that go to buying seeds for the next harvest and ensuring that farmers’ children have three meals a day. While Dunkin’ Donuts’ track record on fair trade was good over the last decade, its sudden drop of the fair trade premium for farmers is disappointing.

Call on Dunkin’ Donuts to continue to source Fair Trade coffee.

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Learn more:

See our Corporate Criminals alumni.


Jenny White, a volunteer at Global Exchange since 2012, researched and drafted this list. It was reviewed, discussed and approved by the Global Exchange staff.