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You know all those huge corporations we buy from? The ones that practically own half the world? It goes without question their success is largely due to putting profits before people, from exploiting workers to polluting the environment, anything goes! And what’s worse is they usually get away with it. Too often governments fail to regulate their behavior or enforce protections. That’s all starting to change as corporate transparency becomes mandatory, bringing more of these issues to light.

It’s up to us as consumers to stay informed. We need to keep these companies in check. After all, our purchasing decisions have a powerful impact on the world around us. In a recent survey, researchers discovered that a whopping 60% of consumers would opt for a different product if they knew it was made using nefarious means.

So big business take note: if you want to keep your customers, clean up your act!

Using The United Nations Guiding Principles, The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark has identified ten companies with especially egregious human rights records:

1. Nike: Just Don’t Do It

A global giant in athletic footwear and Apparel, Nike is consistently accused of human rights violations. Even in its early days, the company was revealed to be getting its materials from child labor, some as young as 10 years old. Life magazine exposed Nike’s atrocious factory conditions in 1996, including low pay, long hours, and serious health problems caused by toxic fumes. 

Yet, Nike continues to face legal trouble for mistreating workers despite their promise to improve, sadly giving a whole new meaning to the term “sweat suit”. Of course, their supply chain has zero transparency, making it ridiculously hard to trace the origins of their raw materials. Do better, Nike!

2. Nestle: The Dark Side of Chocolate

Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company, has also faced heavy criticism for its unethical practices. In 2020, the company publicly disclosed that it identified 18,283 children still working in its cocoa supply chains, marking a 14% increase from the previous year. Furthermore, they are guilty of actively promoting their baby formula over breast milk in developing countries.

Additionally, Nestle faced accusations of human rights violations in its supply chains, for brands like Fancy Feast. This includes trafficking, debt bondage, and subjecting migrant workers to hazardous working conditions. The company compensated some workers after a lawsuit in 2015, but subsequent investigations have continued to find ongoing abuse in its seafood sector.

3. Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices

According to the National Employment Law Project, the retailer holds the title of being one of the largest employers of low-wage workers in the US. That seems admirable until you realize that more than half of its employees earn less than $25,000 a year, and many still need government assistance just to make ends meet. To save money, Walmart denies healthcare benefits and retaliates against those who attempt to speak out. Not much better than when the US Department of Labor fined the company $4.8 million for violating child labor laws and failing to pay overtime to its employees in 2012. The violations don’t end there.

Walmart has always been notorious for sourcing cheaply from factories that don’t meet basic safety standards. The tragic 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, which claimed the lives of over 1,100 workers, serves as a poignant example. In Malaysia, a Walmart supplier was found to be deceiving migrants and children, forcing them into labor. Additionally, another report revealed that Walmart products were being manufactured by prisoners in China, who were coerced to work long hours for meager pay and benefits.

4. Taste the Corruption, Coca-Cola

The world’s largest soft drink company was once exposed for using illegal paramilitary groups to intimidate, threaten, and kill its workers. They even participated in the violent eviction of indigenous communities in Guatemala. Though they claim to be cleaning up their act, only days ago, workers in the US went on strike due to wage disputes

They also continue to face accusations of severe environmental degradation. For decades, communities have endured water sources polluted with industrial waste and plastic packaging. To this day they continue to deplete water resources in areas where they operate, leading to water scarcity for locals. Activists have even popularised the phrase: “No es sequía, es saqueo” (“It’s not drought, it’s plunder”) in response.

5. Amazon (sub)Prime

Amazon’s treatment of its warehouse workers is still the center of much controversy. Once again, reports tell of long hours, low pay, and harsh working conditions that make the TV series Severance look like an amusement park. Workers say they sometimes aren’t even allowed to take bathroom breaks. In 2021, a report by the National Employment Law Project found that Amazon was responsible for almost half of all reported OSHA violations in retail in the US since 2015. 

In addition, Amazon has been accused of union-busting and using surveillance to spy on and scare workers who attempt to organize. In 2020, the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon illegally fired two employees for speaking out about working conditions and attempting to organize a union. These actions have led to calls for greater accountability and protections for workers not only at Amazon but in the broader gig economy. Maybe the cost of getting cheap crap in an instant isn’t worth it?

6. H&M’s Dirty Laundry

Besides making Pete Davidson the face of the company, H&M is responsible for numerous other human rights violations. Reports have found the Swedish fast-fashion giant also uses sweatshops and child labor in production. Surprise surprise! In Bangladesh, workers earn as little as 35 cents an hour (far below minimum wage). In 2020, the International Labor Rights Forum and the Worker Rights Consortium filed a lawsuit against H&M, accusing the company of failing to pay Cambodian garment workers a living wage.

They were also exposed for sourcing cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, where the Chinese government was accused of committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities. A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that H&M was among several major fashion brands that had links to factories in Xinjiang that used forced labor, including Uyghur Muslims detained in concentration camps.

7. ExxonMobil: Fueling Exploitation

One of the largest oil and gas companies in the world has been accused of violating human rights in several ways. One of the most significant allegations is that the company has contributed to Global warming, causing massive environmental destruction. Apparently, they have known about the risks of climate change for decades. Their own research confirmed the link between fossil fuels and climate change, but instead of taking action, they chose to fund climate denial groups and disinformation campaigns. Talk about trying to keep us in the dark!

Of course, they are also responsible for more direct human rights violations like working with the Indonesian military to kill, torture, and forcibly displace indigenous communities. In Papua New Guinea, where it operates a natural gas project, communities were forcibly removed from their land without proper compensation, causing massive environmental damage and ruining their livelihoods. In Equatorial Guinea, they once again used security forces to suppress dissent and intimidate local communities who have protested against the company’s activities.

8. Facebook: The Social Injustice Network

Facebook has been accused of several human rights violations including the mishandling of user data. The data of up to 87 million Facebook users was harvested without their consent and used for political purposes, like influencing the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, for one. 

At this point, Facebook is known as a breeding ground for hate speech and fake news, a virtual swamp crawling with trolls and conspiracy theorists, like a fairytale with only the bad parts. For example, it was used to spread hate speech against the Rohingya minority which contributed to genocide in 2017. It’s also been used to enable authoritarian regimes to suppress opposition. In the Philippines, the site was complicit in the government’s crackdown on activists and journalists, with some alleging that Facebook groups that criticized the government were taken down at the request of the authorities.

9. McDonald’s: Not Lovin it

McDonald’s, the fast-food franchise that serves 68 million people across the globe a day, is also far from innocent. Worker exploitation is an ongoing problem, particularly in developing countries where labor laws are weaker. McDonald’s pays low wages and too often provides poor working conditions while restricting the right to form unions. In the UK, for example, they’ve been accused of forcing employees to work unpaid overtime and failing to provide anyone with adequate protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, McDonald’s has faced multiple lawsuits alleging wage theft and discrimination against workers of color.

Moreover, McDonald’s contributes to mass deforestation around the world. Rainforests are being destroyed to grow soybeans as animal feed and to create more cattle grazing land. This has a severe impact on the local communities, as they lose their livelihoods, homes, and cultural heritage. In the Brazilian Amazon alone, an area equivalent to the size of Belgium was deforested between 2018 and 2019. I guess this is the true cost of a “value meal”.

10. Bad Apple

Reports suggest that employees in Chinese factories producing iPhones and other products have to work up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, with some being forced to work overtime without pay.  If that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve also reportedly exposed workers to hazardous chemicals without proper safety measures, leading to long-term health issues. They were even caught dumping hazardous waste into rivers and other bodies of water, resulting in significant soil and water Pollution. Reports say this has increased cancer rates and other diseases.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, children as young as 7 were found working in cobalt mines. This isn’t just shoveling dirt, we’re talking dangerous work, in literal mines. And let’s not forget about their privacy policies, which are about as private as a Kardashian family reunion. 

Whether it’s using sweatshops and child labor, violating labor laws, environmental degradation, union-busting, or spreading misinformation, these companies have all been accused of a range of unethical practices. While some have taken steps to address these concerns, critics argue that more needs to be done to ensure that workers’ rights and environmental standards are respected throughout their supply chains. As consumers, it is important to be aware of these issues and to hold companies accountable for their actions, as our purchasing decisions have a powerful impact on the world around us.

Sign this petition to demand racial and social justice!

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