The word “corporation,” derived from the Latin corporare, means to physically embody. In his History of the Corporation, Bruce Brown notes how in the first thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, “the world’s most powerful corporations were all trying to embody the Christian God.” In 1534, Saint Thomas More spoke of Jesus Christ as the ultimate corporation. “He [Jesus] doth . . . incorporate all christen folke and hys owne bodye together in one corporacyon mistical.”
Needless to say, in the 21st century, corporations as creations of civilization make no pretense of embodying the Christian God. In fact, today, corporations come much closer to embodying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein than Jesus Christ. Ironically, created by and managed by humans, corporations have become almost robotic monsters, perpetrating, even feeding off human misery, threatening every aspect of human life – the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat – and even the future of mankind itself. What have these corporate Frankenstein monsters done for us lately?
At least 1,127 people have died in a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the deadliest such accident in world history. As of this writing, the largest American clothing corporations, Gap, Walmart and Target, who are end users of these death-trap factories, are still unwilling to commit to any safety improvements. Fifteen people were killed and over 200 injured in West, Texas, from an explosion at a fertilizer plant. Despite the deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary school, no meaningful legislation to subdue ongoing gun slaughter in the United States will get passed.
All of these recent tragic headlines have a common denominator. Corporate profits were, and are, allowed primacy over all other considerations. Even Wayne LaPierre’s foaming-at-the-mouth speech about freedom, liberty and second amendment rights is a smokescreen for ginning up profits for gun manufacturers, because American gun owners are on a steady, 30-year decline. The death certificate of all these victims – at Dhaka, West and Sandy Hook – should read, “Death by corporation.”
But rummaging over the current and historical larger-scale threats to entire societies, countries and mankind in general, we see a grotesque, recurrent theme – corporations willing to kill, maim and destroy even their own creators in the name of profit.
The science on the broad consequences of cigarette smoking was well established in Nazi Germany by the early 1940s. Nonetheless, tobacco corporations successfully fought any substantive regulation for the next three decades, while tens of millions of people died early deaths in the name of tobacco profits. Recall the testimony in 1994 from the CEOs of the seven largest tobacco corporations before Congress unanimously declaring that nicotine is not addictive, knowing full well that killing people was part of making them rich. Marketing cigarette addiction to children was an integral part of the strategy.
But the tobacco industry was no worse than the lead industry for the first 70 years of the 20th century. Awareness of lead’s serious health consequences – including madness and death – dates back to the Romans, the first to use it extensively. Symptoms of “plumbism,” or lead poisoning, were already apparent as early as the first century BCE. Mental incompetence from lead exposure came to be synonymous with the Roman elite, manifest by the shockingly imbecilic emperors Caligula, Nero and Commodus.
Fast forward to 1980. In paint, gasoline and a myriad of other products, Americans were using 10 times more lead per capita than the Romans according to Jerome O. Nriagu, the world’s leading authority on lead poisoning in antiquity. The average American lost about 6 IQ points from leaded gasoline and paint. Much worse for the nation as a whole, that loss of IQ also decreased the percentage of the population qualifying as “intellectually gifted” by about 40 percent and increased the population of “mentally challenged” by a similar amount. Numerous studies also showed a tight correlation between blood lead levels and aggressive, anti-social and criminal behavior
For over 50 years, the Ethyl Corp., General Motors, Standard Oil, Du Pont and the American Petroleum Institute obscured, obstructed and lied about the mounting evidence of a public health catastrophe from tetraethyl lead, aggressively marketing it worldwide and fighting every attempt to regulate or curtail its use. Ethyl Corp. even increased its overseas business 10-fold between 1964 and 1981 while its product came under growing harsh scrutiny in the United States. C.M. Shy, of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, in a paper published by the World Health Statistics Quarterly, declared leaded gasoline is “The Mistake of the 20th Century.”
A report commissioned by the United Nations calculated the yearly global cost of lead in gasoline had reached 1.1 million deaths, 322 million lost IQ points, 60 million crimes committed and an economic loss of 4 percent of global GDP, or $2.4 trillion. Lead didn’t even benefit engine performance. Lead, like other heavy metals, does not degrade, is not combustible and is never destroyed. The world was permanently blanketed with this deadly metal purely for corporate profit.
By 1898, asbestos was declared in Great Britain to be an extremely hazardous dust. By the 1920s, lawsuits began to be filed against the asbestos industry. The Johns-Manville Corporation then successfully lobbied for national legislation – shunting asbestos workers’ claims to workers’ compensation panels and away from juries. With the industry effectively shielded from costly plaintiff lawsuits, they proceeded to fund medical studies, whose published results were falsified, exonerating asbestos as a cause of cancer. When independent studies revealed widespread disease from asbestos, internal corporation memos callously mocked their workers, stating, “if you have enjoyed a good life for working with asbestos products, why not die from it?”
Publicly, asbestos companies claimed there was no evidence people could become sick and die from asbestos exposure. Internally however, asbestos executives admitted that the disease process begins as soon as asbestos is inhaled, is progressive and irreversible, and is very advanced by the time it is diagnosed. Eventually, Johns-Manville filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. David Oster, the attorney in charge of the Manville trust, said the documents show that corporations knew the dangers of asbestos back in 1934 and that there was a corporate conspiracy to prevent workers from discovering that their exposure to asbestos could kill them. “Manville officers, directors and employees held secret information, that had it been revealed would have prevented the deaths of thousands of people.”
The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 125 million people are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and over 107,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases. Corporations in countries like Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Canada still mine and sell massive quantities of the deadly mineral. Approximately 600 asbestos companies producing 60,000 asbestos-laden products operated worldwide in 2011. None of them can claim ignorance about their deadly product. None of the people who run these corporations can claim they don’t realize that they make their living serving up a slow, miserable death for others.
Enter Monsanto. Forbes Magazine gave Monsanto its “Company of the Year Award” in 2009. Perhaps it is no surprise that readers of Natural News overwhelming awarded Monsanto a slightly different award, “World’s Most Evil Corporation.” What has Monsanto done to achieve this lofty perch? None other than seek to monopolize the world’s food supply with expensive genetically modified (GM) seeds that have to be purchased each year and require expensive and toxic pesticides, which Monsanto also happens to produce. It doesn’t take the geniuses at Forbes magazine to figure out that if you own the rights to all the food grown everywhere, you literally rule the world.
In pursuing this business model, Monsanto has managed to do more damage to the world’s food supply and public health than any other single entity. About 90 percent of all US-grown corn, soybeans, canola, and sugar beets are genetically modified versions, which means that virtually all processed food items contain at least one or more genetically modified ingredients. You simply cannot avoid Monsanto’s genetically modified food, no matter how hard you may try.
Exactly none of the supposed benefits of GM crops – increased yields, more food production, controlled pests and weeds, reductions in chemical use in agriculture or drought-tolerant seeds – have actually materialized. The Global Citizen’s report on the State of GMOs points out that, in fact, the opposite has occurred. GMOs have resulted in greater pesticide use and the predictable emergence of herbicide resistant super weeds. In fact, 130 types of weeds in 40 states are now herbicide-resistant, increasing costs, cutting yields and leading to the use of more powerful and increasingly toxic chemical herbicides.
Numerous studies with animals and humans call into serious question the safety of GMOs – even disregarding the added pesticide exposure. In particular, Monsanto’s Bt toxin, the genes of a toxic bacteria inserted into the seed DNA of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, squash and cotton, kills insects by splitting open their stomachs when they bite on the plant. Monsanto claimed that Bt toxin is broken down in the human digestive system, so “don’t worry, be happy.” A new study shows that claim to be Monsanto propaganda. When humans eat Bt toxin, it transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines, which continue to function like mini-pesticide factories. Blood samples from 93 percent of pregnant mothers and 80 percent of fetuses show the presence of active Bt toxin.
Studies in humans are limited, something much to Monsanto’s liking. But numerous animal studies have linked Bt toxin and GMOs to allergic reactions, infertility, immune dysregulation, gastrointestinal and kidney disease, and accelerated aging (1). There is circumstantial evidence in animals and humans that GMOs may be contributing to the epidemic of autism. Calling for a moratorium on GM foods, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) in 2009, citing several animal studies, concluded, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects,” adding, “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.” The consensus among scientists at the FDA was that GMOs are dangerous, but key Monsanto executives, appointed to federal agencies under multiple administrations, including Obama’s, squashed that information. For example, Obama appointed Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former vice president, as food safety czar at the FDA. That’s like having a tobacco executive crafting regulations on cigarettes.
Virtually every branch of the US government, including the Supreme Court and the World Bank, has acted as Monsanto’s handmaiden, often times using taxpayer money to do so. Monsanto’s ruthless business practices, high seed prices and vicious legal attacks have played a key role in the disappearance of small and medium-size farms, bankrupting small farmers and driving world agriculture further toward huge monocultures and complete control by a handful of agribusinesses and food-processing corporations. There is a growing epidemic among small farmers in many countries, especially India, where in the past 16 years, well over 250,000 have committed suicide, most of them small cotton farmers where Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cotton seed and makes its living off of suing farmers trapped in debt.
In part two of “Death by Corporation,” we’ll talk about the fossil fuel corporations, the nuclear industry, financial, and pharmaceutical corporations and the TransPacific Trade Partnership that is poised to let all of them rule the world like a gang of Frankensteins.