New Internationalist

Stop the rot at the top corporate crimebusters

Issue 358

A guide to corporate crime-busting.


Change the rules

Challenge to corporate personhood – the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) challenges the notion that corporations have a legal personhood which protects the people who run them and own them from liability for corporate acts. They supplement their campaign to recharter corporations with speaker tours, the publishing of interesting articles and they have an excellent Defy Corporate Rule poster you can download from their website. www.poclad.org

The unknown kills – the International Right to Know Coalition brings together activists from a number of US-based organizations to shed light on secret corporate activities in the global South. Based on the idea that crime requires concealment, it champions the public’s right to know about corporate activities. It is taking on such companies as Unocal in Burma, Newmont Mining in Peru and toy manufacturers in China who produce for companies like Toys R Us, Disney and McDonald’s. For the Coalition, the start of a challenge to corporate prerogatives is rigorous right-to-know legislation everywhere. www.irtk.org

Keep an eye on them

Watching corporate power – the Corporate Watch movement carries on a tradition of critical research into corporate power and its doings. The corporate crime beat in India is covered by www.corpwatchindia.org, in the US by www.corpwatch.org and in Britain by www.corporatewatch.uk.org. In Canada www.straightgoods.org keeps track of a lot of corporate trouble-making. For Australia check out Friends of the Earth Australia at http://www.foe.org.au And in New Zealand/ Aotearoa a good source is the Campaign Against Foreign Control Of Aotearoa. Also www.prwatch.org based in Madison, Wisconsin, keeps a finger on the public- relations industry and the ways it works to cover up corporate crime.

Fight briberyTransparency International is based in Berlin and monitors the use of bribery by corporations in order to get their way. TI lobbies for tighter laws and tougher penalties and publishes the annual Global Corruption Report. It draws on the energy and commitment of a network of activists and correspondents all over the world.

Shame them

Sweatshop ‘Retailer of the Year’ award – Maquila Solidarity Network based in Toronto, Canada, organizes a contest every year to award a big brand-name clothes designer with the Sweatshop of the Year award. In January close to 2,000 people from 28 countries voted online for the company most deserving of the title ‘Sweatshop Retailer of the Year’ 2002. Wal-Mart was this year’s overwhelming favourite, claiming 56 per cent of the vote. The world’s largest retailer was cited for its links to sweatshop abuses of garment workers around the world, and for violating the rights of its North American retail employees. Crimes included:

  • Garment workers sewing Wal-Mart products in 20 Lesotho factories toil 14 hours a day for $54 a month, wages that don’t meet half their basic needs. In one Wal-Mart supply factory, workers were reportedly ordered not to clock in on Sunday to avoid detection of overtime hours.
  • In the US Wal-Mart was charged with harassing, intimidating and retaliating against ‘associates’ (what Wal-Mart calls its employees) attempting to organize a union; discriminating against women and pressuring employees to clock out after their normal workday and work overtime for free.
  • Wal-Mart was also cited for profiting from employee deaths – taking out life-insurance policies on 350,000 associates, payable upon the employee’s death, not to their family, but to Wal-Mart. Corporate-owned life-insurance policies, sometimes known as ‘dead peasant’ policies, are legal in many US states. Faced with a Texas lawsuit the company cancelled its insurance program in early 2002.

The Network works with organizations all over the world to expose conditions of sweatshop labour and to defend the right of sweatshop workers to organize to improve their lot. They have a number of excellent publications. www.maquilasolidarity.org

Satirical Dow Chemical and Burson-Marsteller Sites – A web-activist set up the satirical website Dow-Chemical.com to publicize the ‘real reasons’ Dow could not take responsibility for the poisoned chemical site in Bhopal after it bought out Union Carbide the company which committed the original offence. He also set up a fake site www.BursonMarsteller.com to expose the activities of the shady public-relations firm. Both companies then sought to have the websites closed down and BursonMarsteller brought a suit against Paul Hardwin, a student at Hampshire College in the US. A number of other websites from India to Australia have sprung up in support of the original satire site and Hardin has posted his legal defence brief on the net. You can read all about it and a number of other initiatives of website activism on www.rtmark.com – which exists to ‘publicize corporate subversion of the democratic process’.

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