CORRUPT CAPITALISTIC BEHAVIOR Part 6

Here are five examples of corporate corruption from the meat industry and from global consulting, accounting and auditing firms. The pervasiveness and repetitiveness of business scandals is astounding; they are reported on a daily basis. The varied examples below document a breadth of greed-driven corruption that puts lives in danger, rips off workers, and puts governments and companies at financial risk. The extreme capitalism and wealth allowed by current U.S. laws seem to have resulted in greed rising to new heights and ethics falling to new lows. (This previous post documented corporate price gouging and this previous post highlighted eight examples of corrupt capitalistic behavior. Other posts have highlight corporate corruption as well.)

(Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.)

An underlying theme of corporate corruption is the loss of robust competition in the marketplace due to the emergence of a handful of huge, monopolistic corporations in many industries. This has occurred largely through mergers and acquisitions that have occurred due to little or no enforcement (until very recently) of antitrust laws.

The Four Huge Meatpackers (Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods, and National Beef Packing Co.): In addition to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, there’s a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that is investigating waste, fraud, and other issues with the federal government’s response to the Covid coronavirus. One of their findings is that the four huge beef and pork meatpacking corporations (which control over 70% of the market for beef), got the Trump Administration to issue a fraudulent executive order during the Covid pandemic declaring a meat shortage, invoking the Defense Production Act, and requiring the meat packing plants to remain open and operating despite unhealthy working conditions. The meatpackers wanted the federal government to overrule state and local public health officials who were trying to protect workers. However, there wasn’t any shortage; pork exports, for example, were at an all-time high, as were the meatpackers’ profits. [1]

The executive order was drafted by industry leaders. It also gave the industry protection from liability for workers who got Covid on the job. It’s estimated that 59,000 meat plant workers got Covid (and that there were 275,000 linked cases) causing over 250 workers to die and over $11 billion in economic harm.

Most recently, JBS agreed to pay $13 million to settle a pork price fixing lawsuit. A smaller company, Smithfield Foods ($14 billion in annual revenue), agreed to pay $125 million to settle two lawsuits over pork price fixing. [2] (See this previous post for information about beef price fixing by the big meatpackers and this post about the failure of the federal government to protect workers.)

Cargill and other Poultry Producers: The Department of Justice recently announced a lawsuit against some of the largest poultry producers alleging a long-term conspiracy to reduce workers’ wages and benefits by sharing compensation information. Cargill (one of the big four meat packers) and three smaller companies account for the hiring of about 90% of the chicken processing workers in the country. The lawsuit asks for $85 million in restitution for workers who were under-compensated as a result of the conspiracy. The lawsuit also charges that the companies treated contracted chicken farmers unfairly. [3]

Abbott and the other Infant Formula Makers: Four corporations sell 89% of all the baby formula sold in the U.S. They have lobbied long and hard to have monopolistic power by limiting imports and by discouraging promotion of breastfeeding internationally. Their behavior raises concerns that they are limiting supply and price gouging to maximize profits. The current and recently severe shortages of baby formula were most directly caused by the recall of tainted formula (Similac made by Abbott, one of the four big suppliers) and the shutting down of the large facility where it’s made because of bacterial contamination. In October, 2021, a whistleblower had warned that conditions at the Similac-making plant were substandard and that Abbott had falsified records and hidden information from regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Four months later, after an investigation, the FDA ordered the Similac recall and shut the plant down, which created major shortages. Note that Abbott had been so profitable that in late 2019 it announced it was spending $3 billion of profits to buy up its own stock to boost the stock price, which rewards wealthy shareholders and executives. [4] [5]

Bain & Co., international consultants: The British government has banned Bain & Co., the Boston-based international consulting company, from bidding for government contracts for three years because it is “guilty of grave professional misconduct which renders its integrity questionable.” Bain was found to have been involved in corruption in South Africa by a South African judicial commission. Bain has said that its 2018 work for the South African Revenue Service was a “serious failure” and has returned its fees but has denied corruption. The government estimates the scandal cost the country $30 billion. Consulting giant McKinsey & Co. and a Swiss firm have also returned their fees related to the scandal. KPMG LLP, one of the big four accounting and auditing firms, and a German company have also been involved in scandals in South Africa in this timeframe. [6]

Ernst & Young and KPMG, accountants and auditors: Since 2017, Ernst & Young, one of the big four accounting and auditing firms (which vouch for the accuracy and honesty of other companies’ financial statements), has facilitated cheating on the ethics tests taken by hundreds of its employees. The employees were required to pass the test to get their professional licenses as auditors. Furthermore, the company withheld evidence of the misconduct from federal investigators. Ernst & Young will pay a $100 million fine, the largest ever imposed on an accounting and auditing firm. However, given its $40 billion in annual revenue, this fine of one-quarter of one percent of yearly revenue probably doesn’t hurt too much. By the way, Ernst & Young is a repeat offender; from 2012 to 2015, over 200 employees had cheated on exams, taking advantage of a software glitch in the company’s testing system. KPMG, another of the big four accounting and auditing firms, paid $50 million in 2019 for its cheating scandal. [7]

[1]      Cox Richardson, H., 5/12/22, “Letters from an American blog,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/may-12-2022)

[2]      Associated Press, 7/6/22, “Smithfield Foods settles lawsuit over pork prices,” In Business Talking Points in The Boston Globe

[3]      Balsamo, M., 7/25/22, “Poultry producers sued over workers,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[4]      Dayen, D., 5/10/22, “Monopolies and the baby formula shortage,” The American Prospect (https://prospect.org/blogs-and-newsletters/tap/monopolies-and-the-baby-formula-shortage/)

[5]      Cox Richardson, H., 5/12/22, see above

[6]      Fletcher, O., & Cele, S., 8/4/22, “UK ban on Bain sets key precedent, lawmaker says,” The Boston Globe from Bloomberg News

[7]      Newmyer, T., 6/29/22, “Ernst fined $100m over cheating on ethics exam,” The Boston Globe from the Washington Post

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