Each year, Global Exchange releases a “Top Corporate Criminals” list to highlight the world’s corporate worst-of-the-worst on issues like unlivable working conditions, low pay, tax evasion, violations of human rights and voting rights, climate change denial, and environmental destruction, just to name a few. More importantly, we create this list to bring your attention to these gross violations and call on you to act.
We have worked long and hard to stop the destruction of people and planet for corporate profits and to limit the influence corporations have over our government, our communities and our lives. And we have all watched with horror as Trump has named unqualified billionaires, corporate cronies, and climate deniers to his Cabinet and to head agencies that they aim to undermine and de-regulate.
We must now work harder than ever to resist the influence of corporate power in the White House, the halls of Congress, and in our communities. Join us. Together, we hold the power to rein in corporate abuse and reclaim our democracy. We can use our purchasing power to endorse Fair Trade, pressure companies to do the right thing, boycott those that violate human rights and the environment, and call on our representatives to represent the people not corporations. In doing so there is potential to pressure these companies to put people and planet ahead of profits. We at Global Exchange encourage you to exercise your power as a global citizen to rein in corporate power, demand social justice and defend the Earth.
Thanks to intern Tanya Kureishi, who initiated the first draft, and to Jenny White, a volunteer at Global Exchange since 2012, who researched and finalized this list. It was reviewed, discussed and approved by the Global Exchange staff.
Global Exchange’s 10 Top Corporate Criminals of 2017
- The Trump Organization: For corruption, exploitation and crossing every conflict of interest and ethics line by taking advantage of the presidency of Donald Trump to increase profits.
- Wells Fargo: For financing environmentally and socially detrimental projects and for creating millions of fraudulent customer accounts to increase profits.
- Core Civic & Corizon: For profiting from the private incarceration of American citizens and immigrants.
- Sinclair Broadcasting Group: For being the largest owner of television stations in the US and forcing affiliates to insert right-wing commentary into news programming.
- Chevron: For its continued abuse of communities and environmental destruction for oil – from the Ecuadorian Amazon to the Arctic Barents Sea to Richmond, California and beyond.
- Blackstone: For being one of the largest multi-national private equity, investment and financial services corporations in the world and leveraging ties to Trump to gain business advantage, from tax loopholes to securing contacts in Saudi Arabia.
- Tyson Foods: For being one of the largest meat-producing industries in the world and dumping 104 million pounds of pollutants into US waterways between 2010 and 2014 – the 2nd highest volume of toxic discharges reported by any company.
- Amazon Inc.: For poor labor conditions and unjust treatment of workers and for putting local small and mid-sized stores out of business, destroying local retail jobs and thriving downtowns.
- Pepsi Corporation: 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 of peatlands for production of palm oil.
- General Electric: For being the top corporate US tax evader; its tax rate was -9% from 2008-2013.
1. The Trump Organization
The Trump Organization is the privately owned holding company for all the global real estate development, investing, brokerage, sales and marketing, and property management ventures of President Donald Trump. Although his three children and his longtime CFO have taken over day-to-day management of the organization, Trump still maintains ownership despite the glaring conflict of interest in simultaneously being President of the United States.
The Trump Organization controversies go way back. In 1973, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division sued the organization, charging that it refused to rent to black people. The Urban League had sent black and white testers to apply for apartments in Trump-owned complexes; the whites got the apartments, the blacks did not. An analysis conducted in 2016 found that 60 lawsuits had been filed by diverse groups ranging from plumbers and painters, to waiters and bartenders, to real estate brokers and even law firms who helped him defend such suits, all of whom who say Trump and his businesses failed to pay them for their work. Trump has fought union organization at all of his properties.
Between 1991 and 2009 Trump’s overleveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City and New York declared bankruptcy six times, making it difficult for Trump to gain access to capital markets in the U.S. So he went elsewhere to find real-estate partners, primarily in Russia but also in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Eastern Europe. Those partners are embroiled in corruption probes, including for bank fraud and money laundering, and were drawn to the tangled corporate legal structures and extensive use of cash of the Trump casinos and hotels. The Organization has been involved in deals with Eastern European oligarchs and corrupt autocratic rulers that have links to Vladimir Putin. As a result, an article in the New Yorker points out that “Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump.”
The organization’s biggest asset, luxury golf courses, includes twelve in the U.S., three in Scotland and Ireland, one in Indonesia, and two in Dubai. The environmental consequences of maintaining perfectly manicured and weed free golf courses are dire: a toxic combination of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other chemicals are applied to the turf. Golf courses also require an enormous amount of water daily. This is especially problematic in the desert nation of Dubai — where it has also been reported that Trump golf courses’ migrant workers from South Asia wait days, even weeks, for their meager salaries, live in isolated, bunk bed-filled apartment complexes in the desert, and are illegally required to turn over their passports to their local employer. The Trump Organization shields itself from liability by subcontracting to a local construction company. Opposition to Trump’s Balmedie course in Scotland has been fierce, as Trump has threatened eviction of homeowners living on the property, sued over the “ugly” wind farms off the coast, and threatened 4,000-year-old sand dunes nearby.
Then there are the Conflicts of Interest:
A conflict of interest is a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. In the case of the office of the U.S. Presidency, it can be defined as “a situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest… and the public interest.” (Business Dictionary). Although Trump has turned over management of the Organization to his two sons and a trustee, he still owns all the Organization’s businesses. As a result, the number of potential conflicts of interest Donald Trump has as President is mind-bogglingly “huge.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) and The Sunlight Foundation have both been tracking President Trump’s conflicts of interest since shortly after his election; currently the latter’s list of conflicts totals 625 and counting. A few examples from the CREW list:
- August 2017: “USA Today reported that the Secret Service is running out of its annual funding, partially due to the president’s frequent trips to his business properties with his family. The agency’s director said that 1,000 Secret Service agents have already reached their annual salary and overtime limits. The agency has already spent more than $6.6 million in taxpayer money protecting Mar-a-Lago so far this year. Each trip costs taxpayers roughly $1 million.” (CREW)
- August 2017: “The Washington Post reported that Republican political committees have spent almost $1.3 million at Trump-owned properties so far in 2017. The Republican National Committee held a $35,000-per-person fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel – D.C. in June, and numerous other congressional committees have also spent thousands of dollars to host events at the hotel. Republican committees also held events at other Trump properties as well, including Trump National Golf Club – Bedminster, N.J., Trump National Doral – Miami, and Trump National Golf Club – D.C. in Potomac Falls, Virginia.”
- August 2017: Reuters reported that sales of luxury homes increased at the Trump International Golf Club – Dubai DAMAC Hills development after President Trump visited Middle Eastern leaders and business partners in May. ‘Definitely his visit to the region and the improvement of the relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council [led by Saudi Arabia] has helped give the brand a boost,’ said Hussain Sajwani, chairman of DAMAC Properties.”
- September 2017: “USA Today analyzed social media and a golf handicap website to identify 4,500 members of President Trump’s golf clubs. They determined that members of the clubs included at least 21 trade group officials and lobbyists and 50 company executives whose businesses have federal contracts–two-thirds of these members played at a Trump golf club while the president was present. USA Today claimed that ‘for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally.’”
- And finally, the New York Times reports that The Trump Org. has a stake in an enormous federally funded affordable housing complex in the Brooklyn district represented by Democrat Elijah Cummings; thus Trump the President is pocketing HUD subsidies as well as rents from the low income renters there.
Learn more about the Trump Organization’s corruption, double-dealing, exploitation and environmental damage:
Learn more about President Trump’s conflicts of interest with regards to the The Trump Organization:
2. Wells Fargo
In September 2016 Wells Fargo, at that time the world’s largest bank by market capitalization, was enveloped in scandal when news broke that thousands of its employees had created over 1.5 million checking and savings accounts and 500,000 credit cards that its customers never authorized. But their controversial practices go back further: the state of Illinois filed suit against Wells Fargo in 2009 alleging that the bank steered African Americans and Latinos into high-cost subprime loans. A loan officer interviewed by The New York Times stated, “We just went right after them. Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches, because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”
Since then Wells Fargo has been sued and forced to pay punitive damages for a host of illegal practices, including “gouging” customers in their overdraft practices (2010), improper accounting in servicing home mortgages (2012), racially discriminating in handling foreclosures (2012), defrauding the Federal Housing Administration over unqualified loans (2012), excessive overdraft fees on checking-account customers (2013), and more.
The 2016 scandal was caused by a high-pressure incentive-compensation program for employees to create new accounts. In response, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the County of Los Angeles, and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency fined Wells Fargo a total of $185 million. Nearly 5,300 employees were fired. More recently, in November 2016 Wells Fargo settled a lawsuit for overcharging hundreds of thousands of homeowners for appraisals ordered after they defaulted on their mortgage loans. In August of this year, the New York Times reported that more than 800,000 people who took out car loans from the bank were charged for auto insurance they did not need, resulting in roughly 274,000 customers being forced into delinquency and almost 25,000 wrongful vehicle repossessions. Again in August, a suit was filed alleging that the bank overcharged mom-and-pop stores for processing credit card transactions. Business owners who tried to leave Wells Fargo were charged “massive early termination fees.” The scheme targeted less sophisticated businesses by using deceptive language in a 63-page contract designed to confuse them. As one employee said, “We used to be told to go out and club the baby seals: mom-pop-shops that had no legal support.” Even more recently, Wells Fargo announced it had uncovered another 1.5 million fraudulent checking and credit card accounts, bringing the total from the 2016 scandal up to 3.5 million fake accounts.
During 2008-2015 Wells Fargo received $31.4 billion in corporate tax subsidies while spending almost $40 billion in stock buybacks to boost its share prices. Wells Fargo also finances a variety of environmentally and socially harmful entities despite strong pushback from clients to withdraw their support. These include the Dakota Access Pipeline, immigrant detention centers, and the GEO Group for-profit private prison corporation,.
As the Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress scale back regulations on financial institutions, it is likely that Wells Fargo will not have to take full responsibility and pay for its crimes. Republicans are planning on a hatchet job on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, reining in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, easing restrictions on big banks’ trading operations and relaxing annual stress tests for major lenders.
3. CoreCivic (repeat offender) and Corizon
CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, was on Global Exchange’s list of top corporate criminals in 2016. The largest owner of private prisons and detention centers in the U.S., CoreCivic’s stocks shot up with the election of Donald Trump. The Trump administration has announced it intends to increase the U.S.’ immigrant detention capacity by 450 percent, primarily for women and children.
CoreCivic’s strategies to increase profits include 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. CoreCivic and other for private prison corporations have played a key role in expanding ICE’s capacity to hold migrants. For-profit prison operators controlled 62 percent of immigration detention beds in 2014.
Many of the problems with CoreCivic have been centered around their poor health care services and oversight of medical staff, so Global Exchange has added the corporation’s health care contractor, Corizon, as a partner in its dismal treatment of prisoners and detainees. Corizon provides health care for prison inmates in over 530 prisons in 28 states. In order to maximize profits, the corporation utilizes unregistered nurses and unsanitary conditions. They deny prisoners drugs and hospital transfers, and do not provide mental health screening and care. Corizon has been sued 660 times in the past five years for reasons ranging from causing deaths to permanent injuries, yet the corporation still makes $1.4 billion a year.
4. Sinclair Broadcast Group
Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of television stations in the United States, is notorious for forcing its local station affiliates to insert right-wing commentary into their news programming. In May of this year, Sinclair announced a $3.9 billion deal to purchase the Tribune Media Company, which will increase its holdings to 233 stations in 108 U.S. markets — nearly three-quarters of American households. The impact will be enormous: a recent PEW study found that 57 percent of Americans get most of their news from broadcast TV. Sinclair will take over a significant number of stations in several key electoral swing states, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina. Particularly alarming is the fact that, unlike Fox, viewers will not know they are watching a Sinclair station with its right-wing slant: the company owns stations all over the country that are affiliated with ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, and these affiliations alone are what viewers will see on their screens.
To facilitate the deal, Republican FCC Chairman and Trump appointee Ajit Pai, who shares Sinclair’s right-wing and anti-regulatory fervor and has close ties to Sinclair, has severely watered down FCC regulations that prevent excessive media consolidation.
Sinclair requires its stations to air short videos with a decidedly conservative slant — such as their “Terrorism Alert Desk,” a “news” video describing the Affordable Care Act’s “devastating effect on small businesses,” and videos attacking candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Local news is squeezed out. The company is also extremely anti-union: Media Matters quotes a union representative described Sinclair’s business model as “going into a market, buying multiple stations, moving them all to one facility, and firing three quarters of the staff to get as much work with the fewest employees.”
It is crucial to have a diversity of opinion and voices in the national media. The Sinclair consolidation puts this diversity under severe threat.
- Call FCC Chairman Ajit Pai directly: (202) 418-1000
5. Chevron Corporation (multiple repeat offender)
Chevron is the second largest oil company in the U.S., after last year’s top corporate criminal Exxon Mobil. But a peer-reviewed article published in the journal Climatic Change in September 2017 found that Chevron is at the top of the list of 90 corporations (including Exxon) that have been responsible for more than a quarter of sea level rise and about half the global warming from 1880 to 2010.
Chevron’s history in Ecuador is notorious. In 2003, a class action lawsuit against Chevron was filed in Ecuadorian court by indigenous residents, who accused Texaco Oil of making them ill and damaging forests and rivers by discharging 18 billion gallons of heavily polluted water into the Amazon rainforest without any environmental remediation. Chevron, which had purchased Texaco in 2000, maintained (falsely) that the company had completed cleanup of the pollution caused by Texaco. In 2011, indigenous residents were awarded $8.6 billion, based on claims of loss of crops and farm animals as well as increased local cancer rates. Although the amount did not come close to compensating the indigenous people for the damage, this was the first time that an indigenous group had ever successfully sued a multinational corporation in the country where the pollution took place.
However, Chevron described the lawsuit as an “extortion scheme” and refused to pay the fine. In November 2013, an international arbitration tribunal found Chevron was not liable for environmental claims in Ecuador.
Then in March 2014, a United States district court judge ruled that the Ecuadorian plaintiff’s lead attorney, Steven Donziger, had used “corrupt means,” including “coercion, bribery, money laundering and other misconduct,” to obtain the 2011 court verdict in Ecuador. The judge did not rule on the underlying issue of environmental damages. While the U.S. ruling does not affect the decision of the court in Ecuador, it has blocked efforts to collect damages from Chevron in U.S. courts. Donziger has appealed. Meanwhile Chevron continues to take oil from the Amazon region at large.
Chevron is the largest oil company in the world that has applied for and received a license to drill for new oil in the Arctic Barents Sea, undermining global efforts to address climate change and wreaking havoc in the sensitive Arctic region.
Chevron continues to fund and take leadership roles in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry group that spreads climate disinformation and writes legislation for climate change deniers in Congress and state legislatures.
In 2013, a catastrophic Richmond refinery pipe leak, fire, and explosion caused fifteen thousand community residents to go to surrounding hospitals with acute health reaction symptoms and increased risk for long term health effects including cancer and pulmonary diseases.
6. Blackstone Group
The Blackstone Group is the largest commercial real estate investor in the world, and is one of the largest multinational private equity, investment banking and financial services corporations as well. It is a major investor in leveraged buyouts, in which the buyer siphons off money from the purchased company, often leading to bankruptcy and layoffs for the latter. In the most profitable private equity deal ever, Blackstone purchased Hilton Hotels in 2007, leading to massive layoffs.
Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, is a loyal donor to the Republican party and close associate of Donald Trump. Schwarzman served as the chairman of Trump’s Business Advisory Council until it was disbanded after the Charlottesville riots. Schwarzman, whose company has vast holdings in China, played a key role in convincing Trump to reverse his campaign labeling China a “currency manipulator,” thus preserving Blackstone’s revenues and profitability in China. Schwarzman and Blackstone are engaged in facilitating the elimination of Obama-era regulations in a myriad of ways, through repeal, rewritten rules and simply lax enforcement from understaffed agencies with no political will to enforce the law.
In May, Saudi Arabia selected Blackstone among a number of competitors to manage a new $20 billion fund, the largest in the world, to invest in infrastructure projects. Other competitor firms had more experience in infrastructure projects, but they did not have a CEO who had the President’s ear. President Trump was visiting Saudi Arabia at the time and looked on as the Saudi royals made the announcement. Many of the infrastructure projects will be in the U.S., resulting in more profits for Blackstone.
After their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump and the Republican Congress are now focused on passing a tax plan that will benefit corporations and the wealthy. Schwarzman is playing a major role in advising Trump on the design of the plan. Since he is an advisor and not a government employee, he is not subject to conflict of interest rules. As Public Citizen President Robert Weissman has warned, “In the ethics vacuum of the Trump administration, Schwarzman’s special role as perhaps Trump’s closest corporate adviser makes it almost inevitable that administration policy will bend to Blackstone’s interests.”
7. Tyson Foods
Tyson Foods is one of the largest meat-producing industries in the world and pollutes the environment at unparalleled levels, according to a 2016 report from Environment America. Using the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, Environment America found that Tyson dumped 104 million pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways between 2010 and 2014 — the second highest volume of toxic discharges reported by any company, and higher than the discharges of companies like Dow Chemical, Koch Industries, and ExxonMobil. Tyson’s operations generate 55,289,069 tons of manure per year.
Tyson Foods pollutes local water sources in two ways: 1) through the fertilizer used by farmers to grow feed for animals, and 2) through the manure produced by raising thousands of animals in factory farms. The corporation confines chickens in large, over-packed factory facilities under horrendous conditions, and generates toxic amounts of chicken waste that pour into running water sources nearby. Recently, shareholders voted against a new, more costly water policy that would have alleviated some of the damage the corporation does to the environment and to neighboring communities. According to the Rainforest Action Network, Tyson has also failed to adopt a responsible palm oil procurement policy.
Amazon.com now captures nearly one in every two dollars that Americans spend online. As a result, it is shutting out small and mid-sized businesses and destroying local communities where people could (and should) shop, walk, cycle, engage in conversation and get to know and look out for their neighbors. Amazon displaces brick-and-mortar stores, leading to precipitous job losses for retail workers. An Institute for Local Self Reliance report prepared for Jobs with Justice found that, at the end of 2015, Amazon had 146,000 employees in the U.S., but had displaced enough sales at stores to force the elimination of 295,000 retail jobs. Notorious for its poor labor conditions, Amazon has done little to alleviate its unjust treatment of its workers. The company has been in the headlines recently for classifying roughly 40 percent of its workers as contractors in order to pay them less. Regular hires in its warehouses are paid on average 15 percent less than the prevailing local wage for comparable warehouse work. Amazon closely monitors employees to ensure high productivity levels. What results is a cutthroat work environment that perpetuates stress and grueling conditions.
Green America points out that “while other major technology firms have established data centers powered by 100% renewable energy, like wind and solar, Amazon continues to power most of its servers with fossil fuels. The burning of these fossil fuels increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to climate change. By powering its data centers with unsustainable fuel sources, Amazon is missing out on key innovations in the field of renewable energy–innovations that have the potential to create thousands of new jobs, reduce healthcare costs, and improve the health of our environment.” Amazon packaging includes cardboard, bubble wrap and other waste that has exponentially increased garbage and recycling material. While many Americans find shopping at Amazon convenient, it fosters a disconnect in understanding where and how food and other goods come from, and the work involved in getting them to one’s front door.
The Trump administration’s quick approval of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods in August raises a lot of concerns about Amazon’s increased access to data about its consumers, and suppression of competition. Amazon will be collecting data on what foods consumers purchase at Whole Foods.
9. Pepsi Corporation (repeat offender)
What Rainforest Action Network (RAN) calls “Conflict Palm Oil” has become ubiquitous in our lives. Found in roughly half the packaged products sold in U.S. grocery stores, its use by the U.S. snack food industry “is due in large part to Conflict Palm Oil being used as a replacement for controversial trans fats.”
Conflict Palm Oil production is now one of the world’s leading causes of rainforest destruction. As RAN points out, “Plantation expansion is pushing deep into the heart of some of the world’s most culturally and biologically diverse ecosystems. Irreplaceable wildlife species like the Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Elephant and the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan are being driven to the brink of extinction…
[And] the clearing of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands for new plantations is releasing globally significant carbon pollution, making Conflict Palm Oil a major driver of human induced climate change…
Palm oil production is… also responsible for human rights violations as corporations often forcefully remove Indigenous Peoples and rural communities from their lands… Child labor and modern day slavery still occur on plantations in both Indonesia and Malaysia.” And in Argentina, exploited Pepsico workers struggled for years to organize a union, only to have Pepsico close down the factory. Workers occupied the plant and were violently evicted in July.
Meanwhile, as soft drink consumption declines in the U.S., Pepsi (as well as Nestle and others) is aggressively marketing its product in developing countries, overtaking traditional diets, fostering obesity, and contributing to new epidemics of heart disease and diabetes. Globally, more people are now obese than underweight.
With so many marks against it, Global Exchange has once again put Pepsi Corporation on our list of ten top corporate criminals.
10. General Electric
This year, Senator Bernie Sanders announced that General Electric (G.E.) was the top corporate tax avoider in the U.S., based on data from 2008 to 2013. While G.E. made over $33.9 billion in U.S. profits, it received a total tax refund of more than $2.9 billion from the IRS. As a result, G.E.’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six year period was -9 percent. In 2012, G.E. stashed $108 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying income taxes. Sanders’ website points out that if this practice were outlawed, G.E. would have paid $37.8 billion in federal income taxes that year.
G.E. has been a leader in outsourcing decent paying jobs to China, Mexico and other low-wage countries and has reduced its American workforce by one fifth since 2002, 14,700 jobs since 2008 alone. Meanwhile the CEO, who earned nearly $18 million in 2016, spent over $42 billion in stock buybacks to boost G.E.’s stock price. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the IRS for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies. The New York Times points out that “its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department… is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm.”
Although it tops the list, G.E. is only one of the multitude of tax-dodging U.S. corporations that are currently lobbying hard to shape the tax plan being developed by Trump and the Republicans in Congress.
See our Corporate Criminals alumni from previous years