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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Corporate Crime

Corporate hypocrisy is rampant in the United States. Profit rates for American businesses hit a 30 year high. Compensation for chief executive officers of corporations was 173 times the wages of the average worker. The stock market continued to set records, ultimately breaking the supposedly unreachable mark of 6,000 on the Dow-Jones Industrial Average.

Yet, corporate lobbyists opposed a modest increase in the minimum wage. This is particularly troubling since the real value of the minimum wage has decreased significantly. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the paltry increase Congress approved and President Clinton signed — despite business lobbyist objections — will not even restore the minimum wage to its value of twenty years ago. In fact, the typical male worker saw a 6.3 percent drop in hourly wages between 1989 and 1995. The average female worker experienced a 1.7 percent decline in hourly wages over the same period.

Corporate lobbyists who clamor for corporate welfare barely uttered a word when Congress passed and the President signed a welfare “reform” bill that will push more than a million children into poverty. Imagine sacrificing the fate of poor children and adults to election year posturing. It is unfortunate that our elected leaders are punishing poor people for the mistakes of our economic leaders who are more concerned with the maximization of profits for a few wealthy individuals than they are with providing adequate employment opportunities and a decent standard of living

for all Americans.

Business leaders like to talk tough about street crime — but rarely make a peep about crime in the suites. According to the FBI, the dollar cost of burglary and robbery in the United States was about a $4 billion in 1995. The cost of business and white collar crime is about $200 billion annually. Homicide accounts for about 24,000 deaths a year — a fraction of the number of people who die as a result of job-related trauma, toxics, hazardous products and pollution. Imagine polling corporate executives on “three-strikes-you- are-out” for street crime, and then asking the same CEOs about applying this same standard to corporations.

Corporate executives and elected officials are quick to denounce drugs and drug dealers. Yet, the CEOs of companies that produce cigarettes (and market to adolescents) which are as addictive as many drugs and which result in enormous health care costs and which destroy over 434,000 Americans each year are welcome in corporate board rooms and the halls of the Congress. Don’t forget, that according to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarettes cause more fatalities than automobiles, fires, accidents, alcohol related causes, homicides, suicide, AIDS, cocaine and heroin combined.

Corporate executives often lament the way they are discriminated against in foreign markets. Corporate leaders demand countries across the world knock down so-called protectionist barriers and adopt free trade policies. But they show no compunction about demanding forms of protectionism that directly benefit them. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, is working hand in glove with the U.S. Trade Representative to force other countries to adopt extended patent monopoly protections — a form of protectionism that benefits big pharmaceutical companies at the direct expense of consumers. Ironically, in the United States, too many banks and mortgage companies discriminate on the basis of race rather than creditworthiness when African Americans seek credit.

Some corporate executives have decided that government environmental regulations or actions constitute a “taking” — that is corporate property is allegedly being taken for public use without just compensation. Imagine the reaction of these same CEOs to a local community group making a “takings” claim when a toxic waste company places a dump in a poor or minority community.

Instead of expending so much in lobbying campaigns designed to limit the rights, protections and opportunities of American citizens, corporations should turn this energy and money into efforts to promote, rather than oppose, economic justice. In the end, it is good business.

The long-term well-being of the nation depends on a fairer sharing of the fruits and burdens of our democracy. Corporations have a big stake and a big responsibility in helping to bring this about. Unfortunately business leaders are doing little to curb the inequality that festers in the current “beat-the-middle class and poor” — “boost-the-corporation” climate. Remember, if we have more justice in our country we will need less charity.