New Internationalist

Which is the world’s worst company?

Shell are one of the companies nominated. Photo: didbygraham, under a CC License.

Reputation isn’t always a good thing. In an age of ‘corporate social responsibility’, corporations definitely don’t want to be known as ‘the worst company of the year’.

The Public Eye Awards have been airing the dirty washing of nominated companies since the year 2000 as a counter event to the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the business and political élite meet annually.

Run by NGO Berne Declaration and Greenpeace, the two titles bestowed on the lucky companies are the publicly decided People’s Award and the Jury Award, decided by a panel.

More than 88,000 people voted in 2012, with mining firm VALE and Barclays Bank winning the awards. Barclays was nominated for driving up food prices, but by the end of the year it had hinted it would quit food speculation.

The Public Eye Awards 2013 will be made on Thursday 24 January at an international press conference. Battling it out are:


The stench of corruption follows French energy and transport company Alstom across the globe as scandal after scandal hits. It has regularly been accused of bribing local politicians in order to secure contracts, despite more than one fine and some subsidiaries being excluded from the World Bank.

Coal India

The world’s largest coal producer operates 90 per cent of India’s coal mines. It has been nominated because of the destruction of animal habitats and displacement of people from their homes and livelihoods which is brought about by its fast-breeding mining projects. Their workers are said to face dangerous conditions; in 2010, 205 workers died. Surface mining in India is a massive threat to the Indian tiger.


2012 was the year that G4S incompetence made British headlines with alarming regularity, but Olympic security blunders were just the tip of the iceberg. The British firm has around 650,000 employees working in security and boasts the largest private army in the world. Operating in 125 countries, it has faced accusations which include violations of international law and human rights. And as state-run services are increasingly outsourced we are likely to see a lot more of G4S in 2013.

Goldman Sachs

Described as ‘the vampire of finance capital’ by the Awards, and with a former employee describing the environment within the company as ‘toxic and destructive’, Goldman Sachs stands accused of taking massive fees to hide half of Greece’s public debt through accounting trickery. And with a quarter of Greeks now at risk of poverty, Goldman Sachs is apparently laughing all the way to the bank – it will clear $10 billion from the crash.


In 2012, 44 striking mine workers at the Marikana Mine in South Africa were shot dead by police and over 60 were seriously injured. The miners were employees of Lonmin, the world’s third-largest mining company. Lonmin management had urged action to be taken against protesters. After the deaths of their employees, the company threatened any workers continuing to strike with dismissal.


Repower is likely to be getting a few votes from Calabria in Italy, where it is building a coal-fired power plant despite local opposition. Repower is reportedly ploughing resources into its propaganda effort, and its political consultant apparently insulted opponents on local television by calling them alcoholics. The region is also in the heart of Mafia-land, so doing business with them seems inevitable.


Perhaps the biggest name on the list, Shell could be described as a ‘leader’ in this type of ranking. Shell has been nominated for stepping up the hunt for fossil fuels in the fragile Alaskan Arctic and dropping renewable energy completely from their long-term strategy. Specialists have said that they are aware of no method to recover spilt oil from the Alaskan Arctic and the US government has renewed a review of their activity in the region. The company already strip-mines in the boreal forest as part of the Canadian tar sands, where it is the third-largest operator.

It’s easy to wonder why there is not an ‘all of the above’ tick-box!

To find out more about the nominees and to cast your vote, go to the Public Eye Awards website. Online voting is open until 23 January.

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  1. #1 GeoffC 11 Jan 13

    Have you considered ATOS? They are a discredited french company who have been contracted to declare british people fit for work and stop their benefits even when they are recovering from operations or on their deathbeds.

  2. #3 jane of Halstead 15 Jan 13

    And what about Tesco. Nothing major but gradually nibbling away at the environment with their new supermarkets. Latest, Halstead in Essex, England, is having a protest at their planning application for a piece of woodland containing protected trees, bat roosts which have a preservation order and a historical set of WW2 air raid shelters. All to be removed for a third supermarket with large carpark in a small town that cannot support the two it has already got and which does not have the traffic capacity for the site. It would spoil the environment of the historical conservation area, people are objecting. However we gather there have been 'promises' to benefit people. One of the promises was to provide special parking spaces for a small cul-de-sac that would be affected. The latest plans have had these removed!! Hopefully with the planning application having a recommended 'refuse' and a group of us going to protest it might get through that those voted on to council will not be voted back on if they do not follow the wishes of the people.

  3. #4 Matt in London 15 Jan 13

    Agree with GeoffC, Atos is missing from that list, especially following their cynical sponsorship of the Paralympic games! Also missing is Dow ’Bhopal’ Chemicals, for being similarly cynical in sponsoring the ’most ethical Olympic Games ever’ (sic).

  4. #6 christine nixon 19 Jan 13

    I would have to nominate Goldman Sachs for obvious reasons. Any problems anywhere in the world it's either the above mentioned or the other
    notable IMF, it's a toss up.

  5. #7 tove 22 Jan 13


  6. #8 fredrodriguez 31 Jan 13

    Looks like Shell won, or lost, depending on how you look at it. I suppose environmental issues can hot a raw nerve with many people. I know of many environmental consultants and engineers in PA who have a whole lot to say about Shell’s behavior and why they could be doing it all wrong, at least, when it comes to long term sustainability. I personally think environmental issues are hard for people to grasp because the benefits are never immediate but I would like to say that there are rewards to care. The reward is simply a better and healthier environment to live in. If that’s not a reward, I don’t know what is.

  7. #9 raga 16 Mar 13

    How is Bank of America not on this list?

  8. #10 Darren 10 Nov 13

    Monsanto, as we all know, is a clear contender.

  9. #11 C Bell 11 Feb 14

    Conifer Health Solutions, owned by Tenet Healthcare is the worst company to work for.

    Conifer is being sued for RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, which is a Federal offense.

    Conifer promotes itself as a culturally diverse company. They have a pattern of ignoring employee complaints of harassment and discrimination resulting from acts of management.

    Conifer's business partners should know who they are doing business with and representing their names. Some of their partners are Catholic Health Initiatives, Vanguard, and DELL.

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About the author

Amy Hall a New Internationalist contributor

Amy Hall is a journalist from Cornwall, now based in Brighton, England. Her particular interests include activism, community, social justice and the environment as well as arts and culture. She previously produced and presented the New Internationalist podcast and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Ecologist and Red Pepper. She currently works at the Institute of Development Studies.

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