Many people like to think of big corporations as their friends, and the corporations certainly don’t try too hard to convince people otherwise. In fact, recent efforts on social media by large companies have taken advantage of this by using a personal touch, and often turning their company into a loveable character, run by a very real, sarcastic, and witty individual. However, large companies are often amoral at best — more interested in profit than doing what’s right. Companies only tend to go out of their way to do the right thing if social pressure means they could lose or gain sales, and they will sometimes do callously evil things if they know they can get away with it. In today’s article, we will go over 10 shocking times corporations abused their power to put profit over other people’s safety, well-being, and privacy…
10. Cutter, A Division Of Bayer, Sold HIV-Tainted Medicine In Asia And Latin America
Back in the 1980s, Cutter, a division of the Bayer pharmaceutical giant, had a bit of a problem on their hands. They had medicine that was meant to treat hemophiliacs and the medicine worked quite well at helping blood to clot, and they also had a lot of stock on hand. Unfortunately, they also found that the medicine had been tainted by HIV, but getting rid of it would have meant losing a lot of profit. Heat treating would likely make it safe, but it might make the medicine less effective. Now, they had a bit of an issue because they weren’t really worried about people getting infected with HIV, but there were countries that might slap them with crazy penalties.
The medicine, called Factor VIII Concentrate, was sold to Asia and Latin America instead of Europe and North America. Eventually Cutter Biological did start selling a heat treated version, but there is evidence they were still selling the tainted stock a year after that because they wanted to get rid of it. Thousands of hemophiliacs were infected with HIV, and some contracted AIDS and died as a result. Over the course of the decades, Bayer has had to pay out $600 million to the victims of their division’s lack of basic ethics. To this day, however, after settling a lot of cases out of court, they still contend that they acted ethically, and responsibly, based on the information they had at the time.
9. Foxconn Has A Problem With Contract Employees Committing Suicide… So They Install Nets
Several years back you may have heard about a Chinese company called Foxconn that was treating their employees so badly they were committing suicide. In 2010 alone, 18 employees ended their own lives. Employees lived in a large dormitory-style like factory, working many months at a time (or longer), staying in the factory on contracts. You had no real time for friendship or a social life and talking was completely forbidden while working. Twelve hour work days were common, and employees were often berated and publicly humiliated or punished for not meeting proper productivity standards.
The company’s response to the media outrage was to point out that 18 suicides in a year was about the national average, and that in a factory as large as theirs, it made sense that it reflected that average. They also installed nets to catch jumpers who might try to kill themselves, and asked new employees to sign paperwork saying the company wouldn’t be responsible if they killed themselves (they removed this after public outcry). The company does now have a labor union, but it is basically a joke as the CEO of the labor union personally works for the head of Foxconn. Since the outcry Foxconn has put window dressing on the problem, but if anything the pressure on the workers is even worse and now they have nets stopping them from ending it all when it just gets to be too much. Now, as the company is known for making products for Apple, some blame them or expect them to be responsible for fixing the problem, but Foxconn also makes products for the other tech giants, such as Dell, Sony and many more.
8. Nestle And Other Chocolate Companies Buy From Third World Farms That Use Child Labor
The chocolate confection industry is currently valued at a little over $100 billion in sales per year, and is expected to grow to around $160 billion by 2024. Big companies like Mars, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle and others all want a piece of the increasingly large pie, and most already post large revenue numbers every year. Nestle’s global brand sells far more than just chocolate, but they posted total sales in 2018 of close to $100 billion, with a tidy net profit of a little over $10 billion. The GDP of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the two countries that produce the vast majority of the world’s chocolate, is currently about $87 billion combined.
Since the early ’90s the developed world has become increasingly worried about the child labor problem in chocolate producing nations, and has encouraged the big chocolate companies to do something about it. Nestle and other big chocolate companies have pledged a total of $500 million combined between all of them recently to build more schools and teach as many as 300,000 farmers. They are also focused on helping them increase productivity, which is probably the wrong way to stop child labor. While they have helped construct some schools, experts don’t think nearly enough is being done. Between Ghana and the Ivory Coast there are roughly 55 million people, so 300,000 is probably not even close to the majority of the farmers that need to be reached.
Big chocolate has also been setting deadlines to fix the issue and blowing past them for decades, and their latest deadline looks just as unsustainable. They claim they will only buy from certified sources by 2020, but with two million children still working, and experts believing the problem is getting worse and not better (at least in the short term), they are unlikely to reach that goal — unless their certification program allows for child labor. While no one has an easy answer, experts believe it is a problem that is going to require a lot more than $500 million to fix, and without a proper partnership with the governments, and true legal enforcement to stop child labor, the problem is never going to go away. Unless the companies who the economies of these countries rely on pressure them, they will never have a reason to step in and do anything about the problem.
7. Nike (And The Rest Of The Big Clothing Industry) Utilizes A Lot Of Overseas Labor
After spending decades cleaning up their image, in 2017 new protests started to emerge against Nike, primarily led by a group called the USAS, a student organization whose acronym stands for United Students Against Sweatshops. They have been protesting over allegedly poor work conditions in factories, alleged anti-union tactics, and not allowing an independent organization run by universities called the Workers Rights Consortium to inspect Nike factories.
Also in 2017, there was renewed interest in an ongoing problem in Cambodia, a country that has a garment labor force of about 600,000 people (mostly women). Essentially, Cambodia doesn’t have some of the same standards as their neighbor, Vietnam, which by law mandates factory temperatures are not to go above 32 degrees Celsius. The government in Cambodia has no specific set standard in terms of temperature. Fainting is common, and mass faintings are not unheard of; in 2016 a little over 1,000 faintings was considered a great improvement over about 1,800 the previous year.
It is important to understand that a lot of these factories are not directly run by Nike, or the other clothing companies. Many of them are run by contractors under Nike’s employ, or even by sub-contractors. Now, this doesn’t absolve them entirely of responsibility, and Nike agrees. Nike, Puma, ASICS, and others have been working in countries like Cambodia to improve conditions in factories producing their garments, but the experts feel that the issue is that they are not doing nearly enough.
Some have offered longer term contracts to ease worker fears, or installed cooling systems, given safety training, or even handed out energy bars and other useful things. However, the biggest problem is that the best wage that Nike and the other big garment makers are pushing for is the minimum wage, and in the majority of countries where clothing is produced, the minimum wage is well below the living wage to get by in those countries. Until all of the large clothing companies (not just Nike) pressure the governments (and the contractors and sub-contractors under them) to provide a living wage as part of their codes of conduct, many living and working in garment-making countries will continue to struggle mightily working long days, simply hoping to get by.
6. Philip Morris Made Teen Anti-Smoking Ads (They Were Ineffective, Obviously)
In 1999 Phillip Morris announced their plans to start making teen anti-smoking ads, and the outcry was pretty much immediate. At the time, there were plans for a national anti-smoking campaign for actual public health that would cost about $1.5 billion, and many states were running some very hard-hitting anti-smoking ads that graphically showed the physical effects of smoking and what it could do to your body, including showing someone smoking through a tracheotomy tube. People who criticized Phillip Morris felt that the $100 million they were spending on anti-smoking ads would be better spent by groups that actually had a real reason to want people to not smoke.
However, Phillip Morris insisted on running their own ads, and it was quickly apparent why the experts didn’t want them making anti-smoking ads, and why they felt it was pretty much just an underhanded move to dilute the message of the hard-hitting ads. The ads depicted teens basically just saying things like “I don’t need to smoke to prove myself,” which as some surveyed teens explained didn’t really give them any particular reason not to smoke. In fact, random teens who were surveyed about the various different anti-smoking ads always found the ones by Phillip Morris to be the least effective, whereas the ones that showed the most graphic depictions of possible dangers had the most positive effect when it came to making people not want to smoke.
5. Mylan Hiked The Price Of Live Saving EpiPens By More Than 400% To Make Money
In 2015, with increased awareness of pharmaceutical price gouging due to the infamous Pharma Bro, people started raising hell that the price of life saving EpiPens had been hiked by 400% in just a few short years. A drug company called Mylan bought the patent in 2007, and started needlessly raising the price. It went from $50 for a single EpiPen to $600 for a two-pack in just seven years. The CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, saw her company gain about a billion extra dollars in profit per year because of this, and saw tens of extra millions of dollars in personal salary. When called before a Congressional committee, she gave all kinds of excuses, but she didn’t really need to — the sickening actions she and her company took were entirely legal.
There really are no price caps or any kinds of laws that would prevent the pharmaceutical companies from doing this, and because they owned the patent they did everything they could to prevent a generic version from entering the market. However, a company called Teva had been working on approval for a generic for some time, both to get past the FDA’s inspections and to work their way past legal challenges from Mylan. In 2018, they finally got approval, and you can now buy a generic two-pack for about $110, which is really just 10 dollars more than the original price. Mylan, still being tone deaf, has offered their own “generic alternative” for the “generous” price of just $300 for a two-pack. How big of them.
4. Conditions At Tyson, Perdue, And Pilgrim Factories Allegedly Led To Diaper Use On The Line
A couple years back, a report by Oxfam — a charity focused on ending poverty — found that there were incredibly abusive conditions at many chicken processing factories, including those owned by giants like Tyson, Perdue, and Pilgrim. These factories are said to not only be very dangerous even when proper safety standards are met, but it is cold and typically unappreciated work. These things would be bad enough, but the worst part is that after interviewing thousands and thousands of employees, they were left with horror stories of people routinely being denied bathroom breaks when they needed them.
According to this report, many employees were resorting to adult diapers — not just to urinate, but also to defecate on the line. While this is an awful way to treat your employees and abusive on multiple levels, it should also bother you even if you don’t really care about human suffering because it’s disgusting that something like that is going on right next to food that is being prepared for you to buy at the supermarket. While all the major chicken suppliers such as Pilgrim, Perdue, and Tyson at first claimed that company policies were already against such things, and denied that something like that could be widespread, Tyson eventually responded to an Oxfam petition (which garnered well over 150,000 signatures) by promising to incorporate more safety training and bathroom breaks to improve conditions in the workplace.
3. Family Dollar Got Around Overtime Laws By Calling Hourly Employees “Managers”
Family Dollar probably isn’t a store you spend much time thinking about. You might shop there if you tend to be really thrifty, or maybe you stop in once in a while to get certain things really cheap. But it really isn’t part of popular culture like McDonald’s or Walmart. It’s just not really on the radar. However, in terms of abusive companies, it has been one of the worst and certainly managed to get itself in a lot of hot water a few years back. Essentially, the company was struggling to meet all of its costs, and felt that the one place where maybe they could cut was in terms of labor. So, they started calling almost everyone a manager, then having them spend their day doing non-manager tasks. Family Dollar thought they had found a loophole, wherein they didn’t have to give any extra compensation for overtime hours.
Many employees complained of being expected to work 60-80 hours a week, often being forced to work 12 hour days without being paid time and a half for their overtime hours. Unfortunately for Family Dollar, they did not get away with it. Well over 500 improperly classified managers sued in 2011, and in 2014, Family Dollar settled to the tune of about $1.5 million in lawyer fees and unpaid overtime.
2. Facebook Analyzes Your Private Messages And Gave Permissions To Spotify And Netflix
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to scanning your private messages in order to look for things like child pornography, which is all well and good as long as no human is actually looking at the messages unless there is a really, really good reason (like if law enforcement has requested documents and sent the proper documentation). However, Zuckerberg’s Facebook was caught at the end of last year in yet another privacy scandal — although they will claim it is all legal, as you sign your privacy away when you join.
The scandal was because Facebook, in order to better help certain partners target ads to you, had given permission to apps like Spotify and Netflix to not only read your private messages, but see who else was in chat, and even delete them. Now, there is no evidence they were deleting messages, or that random employees even had access or were reading people’s private conversations, but the fact they would even give other companies that ability at all is quite disturbing. Facebook, for their part, doesn’t seem apologetic — they just stubbornly contend that they had every right in terms of your privacy agreement with them, so too bad for you if you don’t like it.
1. Big Oil Allegedly Knew Decades Back What Sustained Oil Use Would Do To The Climate
In 2015, a leaked report that had been commissioned by Exxon more than 40 years ago showed something that shocked a lot of people around the world, and also essentially confirmed what a lot of other people already thought. The report showed a climate change model due to the use of fossil fuels and increased CO2 that was pretty much in line with what scientists have feared would happen, and will continue to happen, today. In 2017, another report was leaked, this time commissioned by Shell (but also from the 1980s), and it had pretty similar findings to the one commissioned by Exxon.
Now, Exxon and Shell deny that they had some kind of advance knowledge, and plowed ahead anyway knowing it would damage the planet. They deny that they put together a misinformation campaign about climate change and what their product would do, while in truth knowing full well. Exxon has also defended themselves by saying that the single leaked document is out of context. Now, this would be a fair enough defense — they could argue that it was simply a single report out of many, and that they chose to reject it and didn’t believe it, or considered its doomsaying hysterical or inaccurate. However, they have also refused to be transparent about the issue, when doing so would really help clear up what they did or didn’t know, and when.
The state attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, opened up an investigation into whether Exxon misled consumers after the initial memo was leaked in 2015. Exxon immediately sued her, claiming that she was biased and didn’t have jurisdiction. However, it doesn’t look like they are going to win their case. They have repeatedly lost appeal after appeal, and after the Supreme Court refused to grant them certiorari, it looks like they may have to hand over 40 years of internal climate change documents. Now, we don’t know what the oil companies did or didn’t know, or when, but it’s just a little bit suspicious that Exxon is working so hard to avoid releasing the documents that would clear up that little “out of context” leak from 2015.