Corporate Greed, Greed, Greed
Why should the profits of multi-national corporations take precedence over the quality of life for so many of the worlds poor?
The private corporation has become the key ingredient in modern-day imperialism, allowing big businesses to profit at unprecedented rates while abusing the individual, underpaying and mistreating workers, raping the land, and depleting the world’s natural resources.
One of the biggest corporations sweeping the globe today with its corrupt practices is WalMart. Known for its “falling prices,” WalMart currently boasts store locations all throughout the US, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom. WalMart superstores, which sell everything from clothing and groceries to insurance policies and airline tickets, have all but taken over in many of the small towns where the corporation dominates, putting privately-owned shops out of business without contest and seizing monopolies over those areas. Walmart and Sam’s Club boast and deliver on unbeatable prices, yet do so at the expense of their minimum wage workers. Within its homeland, Walmart has been sued in 14 US states for forcing workers to work unpaid overtime. Notorious for underpaying its workers and denying them the right to a union, health insurance, and other worker’s benefits, WalMart has recently received nation-wide attention in the US’s alternate media. Yet even worse abuses are taking place across the globe at the hands of the “Smiley Faced” corporation; WalMart uses distributors all over the world that run sweat shops where workers are abused daily to keep WalMart shelves stocked. Abuses have been reported at textile factory TOS Dominica in the Dominican Republic, as well as in factories in China and India. WalMart’s web site boasts that, “We buy products from more than 60,000 suppliers in 70 countries,” but the suppliers which WalMart uses in order to keep its prices low are a breeding ground for unhealthy working conditions for under-age and under-paid workers who often work 12-14 hour days in unsafe environments. In a 2005 audit for its international factory inspection program, 89% of Walmart suppliers’ factory inspections reported moderate to severe violations of international worker’s rights in five regions around the globe.
The history of corporate greed is not a recent phenomenon. One of the most notorious corporations in the world dates back all the way to 1871: the famous fruit company, Chiquita Banana (formerly known as the United Fruit Company, until the name change to Chiquita Brands International in 1985). Amongst the well-documented reports of the company over-working and under-paying its employees, denying workers the right to a union, and other illegal activity, the company was allegedly very closely tied to the 1954 CIA-backed invasion of Guatemala. Additionally, the company has been said to have bribed the Honduran government into aiding Chiquita Banana with military force in brutally forcing civilians off of Hoduran land which had been purchased from the Honduran government by the United Fruit Company in 1936 for the price of one dollar. Investigations have also revealed that employees of the corporationnat have bribed Columbian officials into allowing the company to use government-owned warehouses which saved Chiquita Banana millions of dollars in foreign taxes.
In 1998, investigative reporter Michael Gallagher, while reporting for The Cincinnati Enquirer, published an article which would later go down as one of the most controversial reports in corporate history. Gallagher had uncovered over 2,000 internal voicemails from “a high-ranking Chiquita executive,” the contents of which exposed many of the corporation’s corrupt practices, including, but not limited to, the following:
- The corporation’s control of dozens of allegedly “independent” banana companies and the suppression of union activity on its farms.
- The unethical use of dangerous and hazardous pesticides which resulted in illnesses of Chiquita workers and were the direct cause of the death of at least one Costa Rican worker, which was verified by a coroner’s report.
- The use of Chiquita Banana fruit transport ships to smuggle illegal narcotics into Europe, including the seizure of more than one ton of cocaine from seven Chiquita ships in 1997.
- The bribery of Columbian officials by Chiquita executives.
- The Chiquita-backed military invasion of a Honduran farm village, which resulted in civilians being forced from their land at gunpoint just before the village was bulldozed to the ground.
- Documentation of the filing of a federal lawsuit by an employee of a Chiquita competitor, who stated that Chiquita hired armed men to kidnap him in Honduras.
Following the publication of the article, Chiquita took immediate action against the newspaper, stating that the voicemails used in the investigation had been obtained illegally. The Cincinnati Enquirer backed the report for a week, but after much pressure from the Cincinnati government (backed by Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters who drove the investigation against Gallagher and who, incidentally, had received multiple campaign donations from Chiquita), the Enquirer was forced to print a retraction, stating that the voicemails were illegally obtained. The Enquirer paid $10 million in a settlement to Chiquita Banana to avoid being sued, and despite the Enquirer’s adamant statement to the New York Times that voicemails were, in fact, real, the publication was forced to print an apology to the corporation and to fire Michael Gallagher. Despite repeated exposure of its corruption in the media, Chiquita Banana continues its domination in the imported fruit industry (second in line only to Dole), and continues its reign of terror on its over-worked, under-paid employees and the environment in which they work.
Yet corporate greed is not contained simply to the violation of worker’s rights and the destruction of the environment at the hands of its pollutants. Perhaps one of the greatest criminals in corporate corruption are the war profiteers. Ever since the Second World War brought a nation out of its greatest economic depression, war profiteering has yet to receive much criticism in the media. And so, today, in the endless atrocity that is the War in Iraq, war profiteering has unfolded at an unprecedented rate. Aside from the household names, like Halliburton and OPEC, a multitude of unspoken corporations are making billions off of the bloodshed of others. US corporations Titan and CACI have provided 36 interrogators at Abu Gharib prison who have been linked to multiple counts of abuse and torture of the prison’s inmates. Private lawsuits have been numerous against both companies. In 2005, Titan pleaded guilty to three felony charges of international bribery and was forced to pay a penalty fine of $28.5 million under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Yet this fine did not deter the company’s current-running contract with the US Army, which is currently worth over $1 billion. Other corrupt contracts include that of the $293 million contract between the US government and Aegis, which provides private security and military contractors throughout Iraq. Currently, an estimated 48,000 PSM’s are stationed throughout the country and it is estimated that this will explode into a $200 billion per year industry within the next three years.
Bechtel, the San Francisco-based construction and engineering conglomerate, was contracted by the US government in the re-building of Iraq’s infrastructure. And even the company’s failure to complete projects thoroughly, on deadline, or within budget has had no negative effect on the corporation’s $2.4 billion no-bid contract. Interestingly enough, the corporation has also failed to train any Iraqi engineers in the operation of the water, sewage, and electricity plants they have built, so no non-Bechtel employees will be around to run things when the corporation leaves. Just imagine the contracts that will be extended by the Iraqi government at that time! Other contractors currently profiteering from the War in Iraq include Custer Battles, which has taken in $20 billion of Iraqi money, defense contractors such as General Dynamics (whose profits have more than tripled since 9/11) and Nour USA Ltd., which has received $400 million in Iraq contracts (including an $80 million contract to provide oil pipeline security), not to mention the oil imperialists themselves, Chevron, ExxonMobile, and their petrol profiteering contemporaries.
The greed of corporate imperialism knows no bounds; and the scary thing is, there seems to be no good reason why. Would it really be such a great sacrifice for a multi-billion dollar corporation to pay its workers a decent wage, provide them with health insurance, and guarantee their basic rights as workers? What would the difference be between the corporation being moderately wealthy versus being disgustingly rich? This is a horrific enough reality when looking at underpaid workers in retail stores, abused workers in sweatshops, and oppressed laborers in banana fields. But when the cost of profit comes through the shedding of human blood, the offense has gone beyond the realms of corporate irresponsibility; it is an international crime which violates every definition of justice. Yet the machine will continue to reign, so long as government bodies continue to profit from the crimes and so long as the media fail in its duty to expose them.