12 Least Ethical Corporations

SOURCE: Michaela Boureaux (GMO Free Kauai) SUBHEAD: Can ethics be quantified? Or, better yet, can a lack of ethics be quantified?

Image above: #1 worst record of ethics as a corporation is Monsanto.

By Grace Kiser on 28 January 2010 in Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/28/the-least-ethical-compani_n_440073.html)

This week, the Swiss research firm Covalence released its annual ranking of the overall ethical performance of multinational corporations. The idea behind the Covalence research is that there's value -- both for companies and consumers -- in measuring corporations against an ethical standard. (We're hoping this idea also applies to Wall Street firms.)

To complete its ethics index, Covalence compiled both quantitative and qualitative data, spanning seven years, for 581 companies. The data encompass 45 criteria that include labor standards, waste management and human rights records. And because it is a reputation index, the Covalence survey also incorporates media, industry and NGO documents into its evaluation.

Of course, while the index had its winners -- the first-, second-, and third-place companies were IBM, Intel, and HSBC, respectively -- we were more interested in the companies with the lowest ethical ratings. Among those companies with the most awful records are some of the usual suspects in the oil and mining industries but Covalence also found some lesser-known offenders.

Check out a snapshot of the 12 companies with the worst ethical ratings, and some of the things they've done to earn the ranking:

12) Barrick Gold Corporation Twelfth worst in the Covalence ranking is Barrick, the Toronto-based gold-mining corporation. The company spent several years attempting to mine the Pascua Lama region along the Argentina-Chile border, but was stalled by concerns about the impact the operation would have on the area's ecosytem. The dispute was resolved only when the company promised to leave the nearby glaciers untouched. A team of the company's engineers and technicians in Los Cacaos, Dominican Republic is pictured.

11) Mediaset SPA Mediaset, the massive Italian television company Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi founded and still controls, ranked eleventh worst in the survey of ethical multinationals. Late last year, Berlusconi's government raised eyebrows when it attempted to double the tax rate of one of Mediaset's main competitors.

10) Total SA French oil and gas company Total has been accused of building a pipeline with the aid of slave labor in Myanmar. In addition, in 1999 one of the company's oil tankers, the Erika, which had 30,000 tons of oil on board, sunk off of the coast of Brittany. A French court later asked the company to compensate the victims of the spill.

9) Grupo Mexico SA de CV Grupo Mexico, the mining giant, placed ninth worst in the Covalence ethical index. In 2007, miners at Mexicana, the copper mine in Cananea, northern Mexico (pictured), went on strike to protest safety and health violations -- and more than two years later, the workers are still striking. But just today, Grupo Mexico proposed a new deal to workers aimed at resolving the dispute.

Image above: #2 worst record of ethics as a corporation is Halliburton.

8) Syngenta AG The Swiss agriculture and chemicals company Syngenta ranked eighth worst in the survey. The company was fined by the EPA in 2008 for pesticide-related infringements, and one of its former employees was recently awarded nearly $2 million after she was wrongly fired for reporting discrimination in the workplace.

7) Ryanair Holdings PLC Michael O'Leary, the CEO of Irish budget airline Ryanair, is known for his outrageous behavior and aggressive cost-cutting measures. Employees of his company are reportedly forbidden from using the company's pens or charging their cellphones with its electricity. And O'Leary has been known to get nasty with customers, allegedly yelling and cursing at one person who requested a refund after a relative fell ill.

6) Occidental Petroleum Corporation Occidental, one of America's largest oil and gas companies, has been involved in a number of territory disputes in multiple countries, including Ecuador and Colombia. The company also drew ire from environmentalists in 2005, when it proposed building a road through Ecuador's Yasuní National Park.

5) Philip Morris International Inc. Philip Morris, one of the world's leading cigarette manufacturers, ranked fifth-worst in the Covalence survey. Earlier this month, the company reportedly attempted to persuade the government to abandon its ten-year-old lawsuit against the tobacco industry for allegedly concealing the dangers of cigarettes.

4) Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Freeport-McMoRan, a copper and gold producer, has run into opposition in Indonesia's Papua province, where locals have tried to claim the area's vast gold deposits -- reportedly the largest in the world.

Image above: #3 Worst record of ethics as a corporation is Chevron.

3) Chevron Coproration Chevron, the oil and gas behemoth, has been accused of tax evasion as well a number of environmental infractions in several countries around the world. But perhaps most controversial was a 1998 episode in Nigeria: after protesters took hostages as part of a demonstration against the company, Nigerian soldiers shot at the demonstrators, killing two. Chevron was accused of facilitating the transport of the soldiers, known for their "general history of committing abuses," to the scene. The company, however, was cleared of the charges in 2008.

2) Halliburton Company After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Halliburton, the oil and gas company famously associated with former Vice President Dick Cheney, was accused of unfairly procuring billions of dollars in government contracts for oil repair in the country.

1) Monsanto Company Monsanto, the Missouri-based agriculture giant, ranked dead last in the Covalence ethical index. The company, which leads the world in the production of genetically-engineered seed, has been subject to myriad criticisms. Among them: the company is accused of frequently and unfairly suing small farmers for patent infringement.


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