The criminal element

Issue 

By Russell Mokhiber
and Robert Weissman

The criminal element has seeped deep into every nook and cranny of US society. Forget about the underworld — these crooks dominate every aspect of our market, culture, and politics.

They cast a deep dark shadow over life in turn of the century America. We buy gas from them (Exxon, Chevron, Unocal). We take pictures with their cameras and film (Eastman Kodak). We drink their beer (Coors). We buy insurance from them to guard against financial catastrophe if we get sick (Blue Cross, Blue Shield). And then when we get sick, we buy pharmaceuticals from them (Pfizer, Warner Lambert, Ortho Pharmaceuticals).

We do our laundry in washers and dryers from them (General Electric). We vacation with them (Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines). We buy our food from them (Archer Daniels Midland, Southland, Tyson Foods, US Sugar). We drive with them (Hyundai) and fly with them (Korean Air Lines).

All of these companies and more turned up on Corporate Crime Reporter's "Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the Decade" list. Standing before a roomful of reporters and cameras (including C-Span, which took us live), we made the following points:

Every year, the major business magazines put out their annual surveys of big business in America. You have the Fortune 500, the Forbes 400, the Forbes Platinum 100, the International 800 — among others.

These lists rank big corporations by sales, assets, profits and market share. The point of these surveys is simple — to identify and glorify the biggest and most profitable corporations.

The point of releasing the Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the Decade, on the other hand, was to focus public attention on the pervasive criminality that has corrupted the marketplace and that is given little sustained attention and analysis by politicians and news outlets.

To compile the Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the 1990s, we used the most narrow and conservative of definitions — corporations that have pled guilty or no contest to crimes and have been criminally fined. And still, with the most narrow and conservative of definitions of corporate crime, we came up with society's most powerful actors.

Six corporations that made the list were criminal recidivist companies during the 1990s. Exxon, Royal Caribbean, Rockwell International, Warner-Lambert, Teledyne and United Technologies each pled guilty to more than one crime during the 1990s.

And we warned that we in no way imply that these corporations are in any way the worst or have committed the most egregious crimes. We did not try to assess and compare the damage committed by these corporate criminals or by other corporate wrongdoers.

We warned that companies that are criminally prosecuted represent only the tip of a very large iceberg of corporate wrongdoing. For every company convicted of health care fraud, there are hundreds of others that get away with ripping off Medicare and Medicaid, or face only mild slap-on-the-wrist fines and civil penalties when caught.

For every company convicted of polluting the nation's waterways, there are many others who are not prosecuted because their corporate defence lawyers are able to offer up a low-level employee to go to jail in exchange for a promise from prosecutors not to touch the company or high-level executives.

For every corporation convicted of bribery or of giving money directly to a public official in violation of federal law, there are thousands that give money legally through political action committees to candidates and political parties. They profit from a system that has legalised bribery.

For every corporation convicted of selling illegal pesticides, there are hundreds more which are not prosecuted because their lobbyists have worked in Washington to ensure that dangerous pesticides remain legal.

For every corporation convicted of reckless homicide in the death of a worker on the job, there are hundreds of others that don't even get investigated. Only a few district attorneys across the country (Michael McCann, the DA in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, being one) regularly investigate workplace deaths as homicides.

We pointed out that corporations define the laws under which they live.

An argument can be made that the most egregious wrongful corporate acts — the genetic engineering of the food supply, or the systematic pollution of the nation's air and waterways, or the bribery by corporate criminals of the political parties — are totally legal.

For your convenience, we print here the top 10 corporate crooks, from the list of 100, which fall well within a very conservative definition of criminality (for the full list visit <http://lists.essential.org/corp-focus>). Carry this list wherever you go, and when the subject turns to crime, feel free to pull out the list and lash the criminal element.

The top 10 corporate criminals of the 1990s are:

1) F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. Type of crime: Antitrust. Criminal fine: $500 million;

2) Daiwa Bank Ltd. Type of crime: Financial. Criminal fine: $340 million;

3) BASF Aktiengesellschaft. Type of crime: Antitrust. Criminal fine: $225 million;

4) SGL Carbon Aktiengesellschaft (SGL AG): Type of crime: Antitrust. Criminal fine: $135 million;

5) Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping. Type of crime: Environmental. Criminal fine: $125 million;

6) UCAR International, Inc. Type of crime: Antitrust. Criminal fine: $110 million;

7) Archer Daniels Midland. Type of crime: Antitrust. Criminal fine: $100 million;

8)(tie) Banker's Trust. Type of crime: Financial. Criminal fine: $60 million;

8)(tie) Sears Bankruptcy Recovery Management Services. Type of crime: Fraud. Criminal fine: $60 million; and

10) Haarman & Reimer Corp. Type of crime: Antitrust. Criminal fine: $50 million.

[Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, DC-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, DC-based Multinational Monitor. Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Mokhiber and Weissman. To subscribe send an e-mail message to <listproc@essential.org> with the following all in one line: subscribe corp-focus (no full stop). Focus on the Corporation columns are posted at <http://lists.essential.org/corp-focus>.]