1998 saw the stock market rise to record levels. But according to Multinational Monitor magazine, 1998 was also a record year for corporate crime and abuse. According to corporate watchdogs, record corporate mergers and the continued consolidation of corporate power have led to an ongoing corporate crime spree, pollution, illness and an unrelenting attack on democracy. This, the groups say, is the price we pay for living in a corporate America. For the 10th consecutive year, Multinational Monitor has published its list of the ten worst corporations. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: 1998 saw the stock market rise to record levels, but according to Multinational Monitor magazine, 1998 was also a record year for corporate crime and abuse. According to the corporate watchdogs, record corporate mergers and the continued consolidation of corporate power have led to an ongoing corporate crime epidemic, death without justice, pollution, illness and an unrelenting attack on democracy. This, the groups say, is the price we pay for living in corporate America. For the 10th consecutive year, Multinational Monitor has published its list of the 10 worst corporations of 1998.
Joining me right now to talk about the top 10 are Russell Mokhiber, the editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, and Robert Weissman, editor of Multinational Monitor.
Welcome, both, to Democracy Now!
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Good morning, Amy.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, first, let just hear the list of the top 10. Then we’ll go through each one. Russell Mokhiber?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, in alphabetical order, Chevron, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Loral, Mobil, Monsanto, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Unocal, Wal-Mart and Warner-Lambert.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start with Chevron. Rob Weissman?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, we picked Chevron for reasons that are familiar to Democracy Now! listeners: the role of the company in supporting the military dictatorship that rules Nigeria, and especially the company has played in transporting military to attack protesting Ijaw people in the Niger Delta, something that—a story that you broke here on Democracy Now!, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s quite an amazing story. In fact, I’m just going to play an excerpt right now of an interview I did last night with Oronto Douglas. He’s in the Niger Delta. Now, we exposed the story of last May, last May where the Chevron Corporation in Nigeria flew in the feared Nigerian navy and the mobile police to an oil platform, a place that they were drilling, where Nigerian Delta villagers had—where Nigerian Delta villagers had gone to protest oil spills, the lack of employment, had gone to protest the lack of compensation they had gotten. They flew in the military and the police, and they opened fire and killed two of the villagers and critically wounded a third. Well, we just got news from the Niger Delta from Oronto Douglas, who is an environmental attorney and activist and is one of the founders of Chicoco, which is a pan-Delta resistance movement that Nigeria and Chevron, working together, once again, have moved in to some villages. I asked Oronto Douglas last night if he could tell me what had happened.
ORONTO DOUGLAS: Yes, on the 4th of January, 1999, Chevron hired two helicopters, together with some boats, and they invaded two communities—Opia and Ikenyan—and the town was razed. So, several key persons were killed. On the last count, we have a list of 10 persons that have been killed and a lot of refugees who have fled their homes into the forest and the bushes. And the situation is such that people live in fear that the—the fact that [inaudible] that were taken away are being tortured. Chevron has confirmed, of course, that they order the helicopters. And I spoke to some persons in the diplomatic community, the U.S. embassy, and they said it was a mistake on the part of Chevron to have been involved in such a situation.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that Chevron was involved, that they were Chevron helicopters or Chevron leased helicopters?
ORONTO DOUGLAS: Very clear. They leased the helicopters. They have confirmed they leased the helicopters. They have not denied it on the pages of newspapers, as has been published. And the mere fact that they cannot—they didn’t deny and the fact that we have incontrovertible evidence from both the diplomatic community and also from sources within Chevron, it is all clear that this oil company is out to support violence and brutalization rather than dialogue and discussion.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s Oronto Douglas, speaking to us from Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta about Chevron Corporation, the largest company based in California, and its activities in the Niger Delta. We’re going to hear more about that in the last segment of the show and also go to Project Underground in Berkeley, California, which has organized a protest in front of Chevron headquarters tomorrow. I should say we invited Chevron on the program; they refused to come on. We’ll talk about their response in a minute. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! In just a second, we’ll go to some of the other 10 top corporations for corporate crime. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Pacifica Radio, and we’re talking about the top 10 worst corporations of 1998 with Rob Weissman, who is the editor of the Multinational Monitor, and Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter. Well, that’s number one, at least first on the alphabetical list, Chevron. And we’ll talk about Chevron more in a minute. What about Coca-Cola, Russell?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, Amy, in the 10 years we’ve been doing this list, we’ve never really chosen a soda manufacturer, and this was the year, Coca-Cola. Soda industry sells $54 billion of soda pop a year. That’s twice as much as we spend on books every year in this country. And, for example—we call it "liquid candy." Kids are drinking twice as much soda as they’re drinking milk, as they were 20 years ago, and we’re generally drinking as Americans twice as much soda. When we put this out on our syndicated column, we got a response from someone who said, "Well, this is parents’ job. They should stop kids from drinking this. Why are you pointing the finger at Coca-Cola?"
And then we came across an item in Harper’s magazine this month which makes the point. Coca-Cola is going to all these school districts and paying them millions of dollars so that the schools will push Coke on to force kids to drink this stuff. And in this one memo out of Colorado Springs, this is a school district guy saying how we should force kids to drink Coke: "Allow students to purchase and consume vended products throughout the day. If sodas are not allowed in classes, consider allowing [other Coke products]. Locate the machines where they are accessible to the students all day. Research shows that vendor purchases are closely linked to availability. Location, location, location is the key." And then they listed a calendar of promotional events by Coca-Cola. So, Coca-Cola is pushing Coke in the schools, the schools are getting money for it, and it’s a dangerous situation.
AMY GOODMAN: What about General Motors, Rob Weissman, number three?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: We put General Motors on the list for something that happened more than 50 years ago: the company’s support for the Nazi regime during—leading up to and during World War II. This has long been known and rumored and talked about, but new evidence came to the fore this year in a Washington Post story. The Washington Post quoted General Motors chairman Alfred Sloan in 1939 justifying the company’s operations in Germany as highly profitable. He said that the internal politics of Nazi Germany, he said, quote, "should not be considered the business of the management of General Motors. We must conduct ourselves in Germany as a German organization. We have no right to shut down the plant." The company didn’t shut down the plant, and its Opel subsidiary produced important war machinery for Nazi Germany.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Loral, Rob?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Loral, which has now been merged into mega-defense company Loral—Lockheed Martin, made it on our list for leading the way in corporate campaign corruption. Loral’s CEO, Bernard Schwartz, has contributed more than $2 million to the Democratic Party since 1992. In exchange, he’s received enormous favors from the Clinton administration: a waiver on restrictions of technology exports to China, probably suppression of a criminal indictment of Loral for funneling technology to China, and approval of the merger of Loral with Lockheed.
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t Loral the owner of tobacco companies? No, never.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Loral was always military.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You said probably also hid information, which goes to the issue of perjury. Let me ask you a quick question about that, since that’s the subject of everything in Washington today, and that’s against the president. But something that isn’t raised very much is the issue of corporate perjury. We just saw a big movie that’s come out, A Civil Action, and there was a lot of corporate perjury involved with that, Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace. How seriously do the people in Washington that we’re seeing now talk about the president and the very serious issue of perjury—how seriously do they take corporate perjury? And how often are corporations gone after for lying?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: They don’t take corporate perjury serious at all, nor corporate suppression of information that’s vital to people’s health and safety and well-being. In the case of the tobacco industry, for example, the Justice Department has been engaged in a three-year-long investigation of whether the company CEOs lied to Congress when they denied that nicotine was addictive. But no one is talking about going after the companies for decades-long suppression of information about the products’ addictiveness, how they were marketing to kids, how they were subverting political and regulatory restrictions on the companies, and how they were trying to basically addict people to a product they knew was going to kill them.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think things will change after this?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Based on the Clinton perjury prosecution? I think that’s unlikely. It’s unclear what the new standard will be for political perjury, but there is no sign that corporate perjury, corporate concealment of information, is ever going to make it on the agenda, absent a citizen movement that puts it there.
AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman and Russell Mokhiber are the co-authors of a book that’s just about out. It’s called Corporate Predators: The Global Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy. And they are editors of, well, Russell Mokhiber, the _Corporate Crime Reporter; Robert Weissman, the Multinational Monitor. Russell, Mobil, that’s your second oil company that’s on the top 10 worst corporations list.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: This was based on a report that in Businessweek in December. In 1971, Mobil discovered one of the world’s richest onshore reserves of natural gas. It was in the westernmost province of Indonesia. And Mobil and the Indonesian government set up a joint venture to harvest the gas. There was a local independence movement formed. Suharto went in and crushed it. And Mobil found—I mean, Businessweek found that Mobil was involved with the suppression and that human rights groups in Indonesia are charging that Mobil was responsible for human rights abuses. Most importantly, they found that Mobil’s Indonesian subsidiary, Mobil Oil Indonesia, provided crucial logistical support to the army, including earth-moving equipment that was used to dig mass graves.
Now, this is becoming part of a pattern. We’re seeing it with Chevron and Shell, and we’re seeing it with oil companies in Colombia, and most recently, Human Rights Watch put out a report about Enron in India, where these large multinational corporations are using the security apparatus of the state to crush local opposition to these projects.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting because, dealing with Chevron in Nigeria—by the way, we did the story on Mobil in Aceh, in Indonesia, and Mobil refused to come on. Chevron today refused to come on the program. But their answer to our producer, who asked about them being involved with the most recent crackdown in the Niger Delta, once again flying in the Nigerian military into two villages and razing them, their answer was, "We are in partnership with the military. We have to do what they say." Well, let’s go on to Monsanto, Rob Weissman.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: It’s always hard for us to put together the list of the 10 worst corporations of the year. We have to exclude so many. It’s such a difficult task that we just put out a list of 10. We don’t prioritize one over the others. But if we had to choose one, Monsanto may be my pick for worst corporation of the year. They are a breakthrough company in terms of developing an entire new industry, the genetically engineered food industry. The company has succeeded in getting 45 million acres of U.S. farmland planted with biotechnology crops. That’s putting bioengineered food into most people’s refrigerators, even though they don’t know it and even though they can’t find out about it, because Monsanto has made sure the food is never labeled. The company hopes to make sure—to ensure that most of the world’s farm production relies on genetically engineered seeds, which hopefully they will own. They’re engaged—they’ve hired Pinkerton detectives to try to crack down on farmers that are using their seeds but not paying them for reusing the seeds. They are developing, in conjunction with a company they’re about to purchase, Delta and Pine Land, a new technology that will create sterile seeds, so that the seeds can never be reused. Really quite a menace, I think, for not just the United States but the entire world.
AMY GOODMAN: And the reporters who try to report on Monsanto—we did a piece on some Fox reporters in Florida. They were doing a big piece on bovine growth hormone of Monsanto’s. Monsanto put pressure on Fox. Fox caved, and after promoting a series they were doing on bovine growth hormone and how it comes into our milk, they pulled the series. And now the Fox reporters are suing.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: That’s right. Those Fox reporters did everything possible to accommodate Monsanto. They re-edited their piece dozens of times, I think on the order of 90 times. But the company was never satisfied.
AMY GOODMAN: Royal Caribbean, Russell Mokhiber?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, if Monsanto is the worst corporation of the year, clearly Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is the worst corporate criminal of the year. This is a—this is a case that touches on corporate obstruction of justice, actually, because you have a situation where the Coast Guard noticed a seven-mile-long oil slick coming from the rear of one of these ships, and they boarded the vessel, and the company’s engineer basically showed them false documents indicating that it wasn’t them, it wasn’t their ship. The company pled guilty to crimes related to this obstruction and to the pollution and paid a $9 million fine. This case is interesting not just for the obstruction of justice.
And by the way, I think I’m a Republican when it comes to perjury prosecutions and obstruction of justice. We need a lot more, and we need—I think you’d probably shut down a lot of industries if you took all of the Justice Department investigators and all the FBI investigators. It would be full-time work for them, investigating corporate obstruction of justice.
But in any event, this case is interesting, because the company hired three former attorney generals, two former heads of the environmental crimes division at Justice, to defend them, and they hired a lot of scholars, and they still could not beat this one—basically, one prosecutor at the Justice Department, who relentlessly went after this company. And in one unusual case, justice was done.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Russell Mokhiber and Rob Weissman, we have three more companies to go: Unocal, Wal-Mart and Warner. And we’re going to go to them in just a minute, but we have to break for stations to ID themselves. Then, Project Underground from Berkeley will join us to talk about their protest of one of the corporations on your list, and that’s Chevron. And the protest is happening tomorrow. You’re listening to Democracy Now! on Pacifica Radio. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Rob Weissman and Russell Mokhiber. They are the authors of a upcoming book called Corporate Predators: The Global Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy. They’ve come out with their 10 worst corporations of 1998. We’ve gone through Chevron, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Loral, Mobil, Monsanto, Royal Caribbean. Three more to go: Unocal, Wal-Mart and Warner. Rob Weissman, Unocal.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: We put another oil company on the list for engaging again in significant human rights violations. Unocal also happens to be a terrible polluter in California. But probably their most egregious crime is partnering with the military dictatorship in Burma, where they’re building a gas pipeline. There are substantiated allegations that Unocal has relied on the Burmese dictatorship to force workers to clear the way for their pipeline and for railways that are going to help supply their pipeline. The oil money from Unocal is vital to supporting the Burmese dictatorship, that could not possibly survive without this financial support from Unocal and other oil companies.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Wal-Mart?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, Wal-Mart is destined to be—is on a trajectory to be one of the largest or the largest corporation in the world. It’s already bigger than its three largest rivals—Sears, Target and Kmart. The problem is that they—I was in my first Wal-Mart in Winchester, Virginia, a couple months ago. It’s this huge, 24-hour operation. And they destroy local communities. And just to give you a sense of what local communities are thinking, I’ll just read you this quote from a woman in Fort Collins, Colorado. "Everything’s starting to look the same, everybody buys all the same things—a lot of small-town character is being lost. Wal-Mart dislocates communities, they hurt small businesses, they add to our sprawl and pollution because everybody drives farther, they don’t pay a living wage, and visually, they’re atrocious." That says it in a nutshell about Wal-Mart. I heard union workers on your show, Amy, talking about how a large percentage of workers on Wal-Mart are eligible for food stamps.
And then, finally, Warner-Lambert, the manufacturer and marketer of Rezulin, which is a diabetes drug. We have a serious problem now with the FDA approving drugs over the objections of their own investigators. That’s what happened in this case. And so far, 33 patients have died as a result of taking this drug. One of the investigators told the Los Angeles Times while investigating this, "I said to myself, 'At this very moment as I am writing this, there are 2,000 patients that are going to die of this drug unless we do something.' ... I mean, people were being treated with this drug and had no idea what was going on." And we saw—and the end result was, he was overruled, and the drug went on the market, and we have a serious problem now.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for going through the list: Chevron, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Loral, Mobil, Monsanto, Royal Caribbean, Unocal, Wal-Mart and Warner-Lambert. Maybe will write a song to help us remember these 10. But for now, if people want to get a hold of your list and your reasons why, where can they call, Rob Weissman?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: They can call our office at (202) 387-8030, or they can look at our webpage for Multinational Monitor at essential.org — that’s E-S-S-E-N-T-I-A-L.org-slash-monitor.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you can also always get a subscription to the Multinational Monitor by—you can get information from the website at www.essential.org or call (202) 387-8030. Rob Weissman, editor of the Multinational Monitor, and Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, I want to thank you both for being with us. And we’re going to move onto another issue of corporate crime and how corporations behave today and what people are doing about it, in just a minute. Do stay with us.
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