April Fools’ Day is a celebration of jokes, hoaxes, and what we used to innocently call “fake news.” On this first day of April in 2017, we are taking a moment to share examples of corporate abuse that seem like they can’t possibly be true.
Hang on to your hat as we dive into 10 unbelievable examples of corporate power run amok:
- Citizens United: The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overruled decades of legal precedent and gave corporations a pass to dump unlimited amounts of money toward supporting or opposing political candidates. This decision further extended the concept of “corporate personhood,” providing corporations with rights that we believe should only be given to actual human beings.
- For-profit prisons: As outlined in a report released by the Justice Policy Institute in 2011, for-profit prisons use a familiar corporate playbook to increase incarceration rates and generate more revenue for stockholders and top executives. Last year, the Justice Department announced it was phasing out contracts with private prisons because they are less safe and no cheaper than government run facilities. This was a step toward positive reform of our broken criminal justice system, but the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently reversed the Justice Department’s decision.
- Privatization of public water systems: Access to water is essential for survival and is a basic human right. Time and time again, water privatizers like Veolia and Suez promise improvements and efficiencies and instead drive up rates, let infrastructure crumble, and cut corners. Atlantic City, NJ is the most recent example of a community facing a state takeover and future potential sale of their water system. Meanwhile, residents in Pittsburgh, PA are facing a lead crisis after an unauthorized switch in water treatment occurred under Veolia’s management. We need increased investment in this essential public service, not dangerous cost-cutting measures in the name of increased corporate profit.
- Trump’s approval of the KeystoneXL Pipeline: Indigenous people led a broad alliance determined to stop the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Obama rejected the permit for the pipeline in 2015, stating that it would undercut United States leadership on climate change. Trump reversed that decision and gave TransCanada the go ahead to proceed with the pipeline, claiming it would create “thousands of jobs right here in America.” According to State Department analysis, only 35 permanent jobs will be created. Let’s not forget that our own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to recuse himself from the review of the permit since he was CEO of Exxon Mobil, a corporation that of course supported the construction of the pipeline.
- Big Tobacco suing governments: Corporate Accountability International played a key role in working with Global South governments to secure the unanimous adoption of the global tobacco treaty at the World Health Assembly in 2003. Since then, countries have enacted policies that require warnings on cigarettes, raise taxes on cigarettes, and ban smoking in public places. The industry has responded by suing governments – including Uruguay, Australia, Kenya, and Britain. Courts have often ruled in favor of these lifesaving public health measures, but expensive and time consuming lawsuits are a drain on resources, particularly for countries in the Global South.
- Giant corporate mergers: Countries around the world are reviewing three proposed “mega-mergers” — Dow Chemical with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina. According to a report by Friends of the Earth Europe, this could result in three companies controlling 60 percent of the global market in commercial seeds and agricultural chemicals. Earlier this year, British American Tobacco, a corporation accused of bribery and espionage, agreed on a takeover of Reynolds American and is set to become the largest transnational tobacco corporation. These mergers will only increase the reach and influence of abusive corporations.
- Public relations schemes disguised as “corporate social responsibility”: Look to the American Beverage Association for just one example of how this plays out. Their website states “through our Balance Calories Initiative, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, and Pepsi are working together to reduce sugar and calories from beverages in the American diet.” Meanwhile, the ABA is being sued in federal court for misleading consumers about the health risks posed by sugary drinks. Transnational corporations across various industries use “social responsibility” to distract from damage they are causing people and the planet.
- McTeacher’s Nights: McDonald’s, the rotten corporate core of our broken food system, bills McTeacher’s Nights as school fundraising events. McDonald’s has teachers and administrators put on McDonald’s uniforms and sell fast food to their students and families at full price in stores, with as little as 10 percent of the proceeds actually going to schools. This is junk food marketing to kids, pure and simple – and the nation’s second largest teacher’s union wants to put a stop to it.
- Prescription drug costs: The egregious 2015 price hike of a lifesaving anti-parasitic drug by Turing Pharmaceuticals in the name of “reasonable profits” for the corporation is just one of the more publicized examples of sudden and drastic price increases. While people are unable to afford essential medicines, the industry is spending billions to market drugs to health care professionals.
- Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order: Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order that directs the Environmental Protection Agency to “review” (read: dismantle) the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is the centerpiece of the U.S.’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and it’s been attacked by the fossil fuel industry since its conception. Trump has frequently mentioned this executive order as a way to put coal miners back to work. Yet even Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining corporations has said “I really don’t know how far the coal industry can be brought back.” Given that we are careening toward catastrophic climate change, and that U.S. coal mining has been on the decline since the 1980s, why are we even talking about bringing coal back?
If this list is making you nostalgic for an April Fools’ Day when the most harmful prank was replacing someone’s toothpaste with shaving cream, we urge you to join us in creating a world free from corporate abuse.