Unethical Companies: McDonald’s

Mostly everyone will enjoy McDonald’s every once in a while, even if you aren’t a fan of fast food. While the food may be cheap, it may come at more of a cost to the environment and the global economy than one might think.

McDonald’s has a negative impact on the environment in more ways than one. Aside from the pollution from factories where the food is produced, the unusable waste from nearly all the food they sell, and the massive amounts of power and energy that are required to keep all of the branches up and running, this corporation is destroying natural rain forests. According to http://www.dmoz.org/Society/Issues/Business/Allegedly_Unethical_Firms/McDonald’s/, McDonald’s likes to purchase their meat from privatised farms, which is not a problem in and of itself. The conflict arises when these privatised farmlands are built on the land where a lush rainforest once resided. So not only is McDonald’s polluting our air, but they are destroying a large part of what would help to clean it out. The trees that are levelled do more than just clean the air, though. They are also homes to thousands of animals that are likely killed or made homeless as the trees are torn down. This is not exactly a healthy step in making our world a better place.

The people at McDonald’s treat their employees no better than they treat our environment. McDonald’s staff are frequently underpaid for the amount of time that they work (which often extends into illegal amounts of labour hours), get little to no benefits along with this gross underpayment, and are oftentimes forced to work in unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. The farmers from which they get their food are also generally underpaid for the amount of produce and meat which they sell to the corporation, particularly considering the cost that many of these farms have regarding the environment and health of the farm workers.

McDonald’s claims to give back to the community and the environment by working with schools and local organisations, but what they repay isn’t nearly enough to cover the damages that they’ve caused.
By: Jennifer Reese


Nike- Just Don’t Do It

In an earlier post, I researched Nike’s code of conduct and the prevalence of public thought about such codes of conduct. Though I briefly mentioned Nike’s poor performance in complying to its own standards, I felt that a more in depth coverage of the corporation’s practices was necessary. Thus, in this post, I will explore further three aspects of Nike’s unethical trade practices: its refusal to fully compensate its workers with fair wages, its continual use of unsanitary and unsafe conditions in its factories, and its use of child labor around the world.

In my previous post I mentioned an article describing the extent to which Nike fairly pays its workers.  As you have seen, this amounted to very little. The Article found that, in some factories, “ … workers are still paid less than the local minimum wage.” Obviously, A company cannot present itself to be ethical if it does not even pay workers the area’s already low minimum wage. Another website compared the minimum wages of countries which house Nike factories and interviewed an Indonesian factory worker: “ “If I don’t work overtime, I can’t survive,” says Baltazar at PT Hasi Nike factory in Jakarta. He works an average of 40 overtime hours a week.” Nike cannot continue to support this kind of labor—the idea of someone working eighty plus hours a week, just to survive, should not be acceptable in the twenty first century.

Though Nike has been trying to give the public an image of itself as a changed company, Nike has failed to better the working conditions of its factories. For example, one article suggests that “ … significant health and safety issues still remain. Workers in some sections of the plant still faced overexposures to hazardous chemicals, and to heat and noise levels. Respiratory illness rates remained a concern”.  Another article uncovered that, in addition to health hazards, many of Nike’s factory workers have to deal with ” … widespread verbal and physical abuse, shockingly high rates of sexual harassment, forced overtime, [denial of] sick leave, inadequate access to medical care, and … worker deaths.” These working conditions must be improved and Nike’s actions cannot be tolerated.

Probably the most frightening practice employed by Nike is its use of child labor. One case study observed that children around the world, “ … some as young as 4 and 5 years of age, are involved in the production line.” The disparity in wealth between nations is so great that children in one country produce the toys for another country’s children. For example, the case study suggests that “ … if you go to a shop to buy your child a new soccer ball … there is a good possibility that the ball has been made by someone your child’s age or even younger.” It seems that the ” … Nike success story is not based on good name and advertising alone but also attached to it is the tears of tortured workers and child labor.”

As a final note, I encourage readers to make an effort to change this world for the better. Until Nike pays workers fairly, improves working conditions, and ceases its use of child labor, decrease the amount of Nike products that you use. And this should not just apply to Nike. Research the companies and brands you buy from daily and try to limit transactions with those which have questionable ethical backgrounds. By consciously thinking about where the things we buy come from and making just small changes in our purchasing decisions, we can greatly improve the lives of many people around the world.

So as to buying that new pair of Nike sneakers: Just Don’t Do It.

Always Low Prices…But What About Cost?

We’ve all seen those commercials – the ones where a tantalizing burger is topped perfectly with crisp lettuce, the bun looks like it just was just baked, and everything is stacked up perfectly. Those are the commercials that make you crave that Big Mac. Yet when you finally pull away from the drive-thru window, the lettuce on your sandwich is wilted, the bun is squished into a pancake, and you have to restack everything before you dare to bite into it.

So what about those other commercials that we’ve all seen? A Wal-Mart associate smiles back at you from your television, beckoning you with the ultimate family image and low prices. Just like that Big Mac, you assume that what you see is what you’ll get at the supercenter, but when you wander through the doors past the Wal-Mart greeter, you wonder how all their employees seem to be in a perpetual bad mood.

The answer is simple, and it lies in the Wal-Mart 2010 Financial Report.

As of the 2010 fiscal year ending on January 31, the 8,416 Wal-Mart stores spread worldwide had racked up net sales just over $405 billion dollars – more than any other corporation. The company’s gross profit margin has been on the rise for at least the last five years, coming in at 24.8%, and net sales also continue to increase.

With astronomical numbers like these, you’d think Wal-Mart’s employees would be thrilled to come to work every day. But instead of enjoying the success of their employer, the majority of Wal-Mart’s associates face wages falling below the poverty line and less-than-adequate healthcare.

The average, full-time Wal-Mart employee, as of 2008, made only $20,774 per year, translating into almost $1,500 under the poverty level. At the opposite end of the scales, CEO Mike Duke pulled in over $12.2. $12.2 million dollars, that is. With increasing profits and record sales, the company could certainly afford to be paying their sales associates adequate wages (Wake Up Wal-Mart).

As if these wages aren’t bad enough, Wal-Mart mentions nothing of its overseas suppliers, which sometimes pay their sweatshop workers mere pennies a day to work in monotonous, unsafe conditions. Does the phrase “Made in China” sound all too familiar? The biggest supplier, not surprisingly, is China, which exported $18 billion in goods to Wal-Mart alone in 2004 (Wal-Mart’s China Inventory). Additionally, the Wal-Mart corporation is “legendary for quite straightforwardly telling [suppliers] what it will pay for their goods (The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know). But with the power it wields, the only thing worse than meeting the company’s demands might be not doing business with it in the first place.

Wal-Mart clearly stands at the top in ruthlessly dictating every aspect of business, right down to the rights of the corporation’s own workers. Countless allegations have been made by Wal-Mart’s employees that they were never compensated for work done on their breaks or other off-the-clock intervals (Wake Up Wal-Mart).

And it doesn’t stop there. On the Health and Wellness Fact Sheet, Wal-Mart’s Website boasts that their healthcare plan has some of the lowest premiums, ranging from $9 to $27 dollars per pay period. However, what they don’t tell you is that the annual out-of-pocket sum is over $5,000 before Wal-Mart begins to pay anything, and for families whose income is generated from the corporation alone, it comes close to one quarter of the earned income. Instead, Wal-Mart employees are turning, or even encouraged, to take advantage of government-funded programs like Medicaid. In 2009 alone, this cost taxpayers slightly less than $45 million dollars (Wake Up Wal-Mart). Should we be spending our hard-earned dollars just so that CEO Mike Duke can enjoy his profits? I think not.

So what does this all amount to? Unfriendly Wal-Mart greeters, cashiers, and sales associates. And who can blame them?

Wal-Mart’s empire revolves around low wages, worker exploitation, outsourcing, and inadequate healthcare so that they can bring you the lowest prices. Always. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but I, for one, refuse to be another enabler.

By Alyssa Parnaby

Unethical Companies: Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is the largest soda provider in the world. Although it is widely consumed, many people are unaware of its labor violations.

The company has come under fire in the last few months for the way in which its workers are treated in Guatemala. The primary source of all the violence is the workers’ union. On February 25, 2010, Coke was sued by those Guatemalan laborers, who claim that they, “endured a campaign of violence” from the people who worked for the bottling or processing plants owned by Coke (Business Week).

This violence took place in Guatemala City. The perpetrators were employed by Incasa, which operated the bottling plant (Business Week). One of the plaintiffs is Jose Palacios, who faced violence after rejoining the workers’ union in 2004. Not only was he shot at and threatened at the bottling plant, but armed men broke into his home and threatened his family (Atlanta Business News). A few weeks after this invasion, in 2005, he was fired without a cause (North American Congress on Latin America).

Another plaintiff in the case is Jose Chavez, a prominent union leader. In 2008, after he participated in collective-bargaining activities in Guatemala City, returned home to his waiting family. Upon his arrival, Chavez’s son and nephew were brutally murdered in front of his eyes and his 16 year old daughter was gang-raped (North American Congress on Latin America). This violence was a response to his activity in the union.

Coca-Cola has faced legal action by workers before. In 2001, it was sued by union laborers in Colombia for violence against unionized workers. In a statement at Coke’s annual meeting of shareholders in 2005, the company claimed,“Our company and our bottling partners have been accused of complicity in the murder of union members and the ongoing intimidation of union members and of the suppression of union activity in Colombia. The allegations are not true” (PBS). The company paid more attention to the problem only after an international boycott began in 2003 (Business Week). Ultimately, Coca-Cola and its bottlers were found not guilty and cleared of any wrong-doing by Colombian courts (PBS). When the case was brought to the United States, Coca-Cola fought to have its name removed from the lawsuit and got its wish.

Although this has not been widely publicized, the labor violations of Coca-Cola are a prominent issue. Consumers of Coke, and other items produced by corporations with foggy labor practices, have to ask themselves how they can make a difference. Students at colleges across the United States, one being Rutgers Univeristy, have started boycotts of the soda. Rutgers students were successful in their activism, and the university has switched its contract to Pepsi (Killer Coke).

A new documentary was released in 2009 called “The Coca-Cola Case.” It was filmed by German Gutierezz and Carmen Garcia to highlight “the reality of union busting at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, Guatemala and Turkey” (Green Muze). This movie reveals the practices of just one of the many multi-national corporations and upon watching it, the consumers will hopefully be inspired to better inform themselves about the products they consume (Green Muze). Here is a link to the trailer for this documentary: The Coca-Cola Case.

Coca-Cola is one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Its business practices have to be questioned by the consumer to ensure that labor violations are not being committed. The consumers can learn more about the issue at http://killercoke.org/.