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Sundin column: Corporate morality — and the lack thereof

Hal Sundin

Corporate morality — now there’s an oxymoron to match military intelligence and political science. Yet the Supreme Court, in its incomprehensible wisdom, has declared that corporations are people. If they are, they should have a heart and a conscience. If they do not, corporations are not people, as confirmed by the following examples.

The pharmaceutical industry is a prime example. As reported by Mary Boland in October, the profits of the 10 drug companies listed in the Fortune 500 exceed the combined profits of all the other 490 companies. Together they have lobbied Congress into incorporating into law a provision prohibiting Medicare from negotiating drug prices.

One of the most heartless of the drug companies’ actions was Mylan’s 600 percent increase in the price of its EpiPen since 2007 to $600, a price many people whose lives depend on it cannot afford. Public pressure has caused Mylan to make a token reduction in its EpiPen price, but it is still exorbitant for a product that contains only a few dollars worth of medicine.



Wal-Mart is a major offender, making profits in excess of $15 billion a year by paying its workers less than a living wage, which makes them eligible for federal earned income tax credits (paid with our tax dollars) to make up the difference. In other words, we the taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart’s profits, which go to their stockholders. Fortune has reported that Wal-Mart could afford to increase wages 50 percent, which would save the U.S. Treasury billions of dollars in EITC payments.

For over a century the tobacco industry has been making huge profits by selling death, promoting cigarettes as being good for people while all the time denying scientific evidence that they are addictive and a major cause of lung cancer.



For decades DuPont has been hiding chemical pollution that has been contaminating the drinking water supplies of millions of Americans. Recently, the Michigan attorney general alleged that Veolia, a French international corporation, ignored the lead contamination in the Flint water supply, threatening millions of children with lead poisoning.

Monsanto and other agribusinesses have obtained billions of dollars of government subsidies (our tax money) empowering them to take over the African food market, threatening the livelihoods of local farmers, increasing food prices and reaping huge profits.

Volkswagen got caught illegally wiring more than 11 million cars to conceal violations of emission standards.

Fossil-fuel corporations, lead by ExxonMobile, have known the truth about the effect of burning fossil fuels on our earth’s climate for decades, all the while denying the scientific evidence and discrediting climate scientists in an attempt to block, delay or water down U.S. and world climate policy, just like the chemical companies tried to do to Rachel Carson over what DDT was doing to birds.

Corporate executive salaries have been rising at outrageous rates as those executives, sitting on each other’s boards, vote one another seven-figure raises and bonuses.

It is true that the purpose of corporations is to make money, but not by whatever means it takes. Corporations should not serve just their executives and stockholders, but should also benefit their workers and the consumer whose purchases and produce their profits. Henry Ford set an example, raising the wages of his workers so they could afford to buy his cars, benefiting both the company and its workers.

Our country went through a similar period of corporate exploitation in the latter part of the 19th century, known as the robber baron era, in which a few corporations and their wealthy owners dominated the government to serve their greed and had little regard for the well-being or safety of their workers.

A similar exploitation of American workers has arisen over the past 40 years. Until 1975, wages increased at the same rate as worker productivity. Since then, productivity has increased 75 percent and wages adjusted for inflation have actually declined by 5 percent, with all of the profits going to the wealthy via corporations. This trend has been obvious to wage earners since the end of the Great Recession, who feel they are being exploited by corporations and the wealthy with the compliance of the government — “the establishment.”

This accounts for both the appeal of Bernie Sanders’ populist movement and the success of Donald Trump’s tirade on “the establishment.” Over time the followers of both Sanders and Trump may merge into a political coalition that will force corporations to serve all of the people instead of only the wealthy.

Hal Sundin’s As I See It column appears on the first Thursday of the month.


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