With TPP and its Atlantic cousin TTIP both moving forward, the net neutrality vote postponed by the FCC until the new (GOP-led) Congress takes over, and Citizens United buttering us up for an even more robustly corrupt corporatocracy, watchdogs and whistleblowers have never been more important to our democracy. It’s also important to never forget the corporate crimes of the past. Corporations can and do get away with murder all the time. Yet, their dubious personhood status–which bestows them with seemingly limitless powers of ‘citizenship’–does not always subject them to the same laws and regulations biological humans face. So these crimes get swept under the rug like teenage transgressions.
But we don’t forget. Here are 10 corporations that got away with murder:
Dutch West India Company
Granted a charter to monopolize the Atlantic slave trade, the Dutch West India Company transported African slaves to sugar plantations and cotton plantations in the Americas. On average, 15 percent of slaves died during the voyages from suffocation, starvation, violence and disease.
“They violated every goddamn law in the book,” said Jack Blum, former Senate investigator. HSBC, a British-based bank, was fined $1.9 billion for laundering money from Sinaloa, Hezbollah, and other illicit organizations. Yet, not one person went to prison. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer explained, “Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges … the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”
Colorado Fuel & Iron Company
After 14-hour work days and filthy working conditions, Colorado miners had had enough. They went on strike in 1914. Then, members of the Colorado National Guard and the CFI descended upon a group of strikers in Ludlow, Colorado, killing two dozen people, including women and children. CFI, owned by John D. Rockefeller, was never charged.
In May 2011, Philip Morris CEO Louis Camilleri claimed, “It’s not that hard to quit smoking.” The year before, the company had collected $27 billion in revenue. Meanwhile, smoking is responsible for one in five deaths in the United States. Philip Morris has often dodged lawsuits and continues to market its deadly product to teenagers who, they hope, will become lifelong customers–provided these are substantially shortened lives.
Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation
About 10,000 subsistence diamond diggers were working small plots in the Marange diamond field in Chiadzwa, Zimbabwe, in 2006. After taking over the mining field, the Government of Zimbabwe began shooting the unlicensed miners from helicopters. Today, the field is operated by seven companies all partnered with the government affiliate ZMDC.
In April 2013, plaintiffs filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of 73 Colombians who accused Dole of driving small farmers from banana zones, sanctioning union leader murders and using terror tactics to discourage local resistance. Dole and rival banana magnate Chiquita have long been accused of funding paramilitaries to squelch labor rights.
Royal Dutch Shell
Shell, long a mistress of the Nigerian government, has regularly faced accusations of razing villages to install pipelines, flaring billions of dollars’ worth of natural gas, mucking up the water quality and generally playing by its own rules. Yet in the Supreme Court Case Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the judges dismissed the pleas based on “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”
Methamphetamine was first marketed as Pervitin, an alertness enhancer, by Berlin-based drug manufacturer Temmler Werke in 1938. It was used widely through World War II in Germany, Japan, and even America. Addicted soldiers were known to shoot themselves in psychotic phases. Pervitin was removed from the market but, of course, meth remains and its Big Pharma cousin Adderall (and other amphetamines), contribute to premature death and psychiatric disorders every year.
CITGO Petroleum Corporation
For 10 years, CITGO expelled carcinogenic waste gases from its oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. But in 2014, Judge John D. Rainey decided that calculating the real-life amount owed to local victims would “unduly delay the sentencing process” and “outweighs the need to provide restitution to any victims.”
Kansas Pacific Railroad
The Kansas Pacific railroad transported businessmen, tourists and the military to and from Kansas City to Denver in the early 1870s. It encouraged travelers to shoot American bison from the train windows for a jolly good time. By 1890, the buffalo had dropped from their 1492 peak of 60 million to just 750. Some call that near extinction; others call it murder.
So, which ones were left off–Silkwood? Which ones will join the list once the facts come out–Monsanto? There have undoubtedly been many more corporations that got away with murder, or are in the process of getting away with murder due to loose federal regulations–let’s dethrone them. After all, if you want to be treated like people, you have to follow the same laws we do.