The Misconduct of the “World’s Most Admired Companies”

In terms of misconduct, usually what is found among the biggest multinational corporations is exploitation and benefits from immense public subsidy without providing adequate returns to the public. There are numerous examples showing that to be true, but they often manifest as the use of super-exploited workers and the highly profitable use of technology that was originally developed through public investment.

For example, Walmart long hasn’t paid workers living wages, resulting in those workers (among other things) having to use publicly-funded programs such as SNAP. Then there’s computers, which were developed in large part through taxpayer-funded research at the Department of Defense in the latter half of the 20th century. And speaking of the military, Lockheed Martin’s weapons manufacturing has been complicit in U.S. war crimes that violate international law for decades, and Lockheed likely wouldn’t even exist today if it hadn’t been bailed out by the public under the Nixon administration in 1971.

Literally trillions of dollars worth of taxpayer research and subsidies over the past several decades has been fundamental to the advancement of industries such as the aerospace industry, the computer industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the biotechnology industry, and the telecommunications industry. Much of this taxpayer funding into developments that otherwise probably wouldn’t exist today has often translated into the phenomenon known as public costs and private profits, which is hardly a fair return on investment.

Fortune magazine recently released its 2018 list of the World’s Most Admired Companies. From a pool of roughly 1,500 candidates, Fortune picked the 50 “best-regarded companies in 52 industries.” Apple topped the list for the eleventh year straight. General Electric plummeted in the last year from number 7 to number 30. Lockheed Martin and Adidas both cracked the top 50 for the first time.

Of course, Fortune’s ranking is somewhat skewed and self-serving. It is based on a survey of corporate executives and financial analysts. “Admiration” is measured according to criteria that emphasize companies’ financial shape over their track record of integrity and business ethics.

So, we took it upon ourselves to document the dark side of the world’s 50 most admired companies. Ten of the companies are in our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD), which includes civil, criminal, and administrative misconduct instances dating back to 1995 for 220 of the federal government’s largest contractors. All but 3 of the top 50 are in Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker corporate misconduct database, which includes enforcement data from the federal regulatory agencies and the Justice Department dating back to 2000 for over 2,800 companies. Both databases show that most of the companies have multiple instances of misconduct for which they paid millions of dollars in fines, penalties, judgments, and settlements.

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