The 5 Most Unethical Companies

Nestle

Nestle is a multinational company owning a large number of food and drink brands, including San Pellegrino water, Nescafe, Nespresso and KitKat. Given the popularity of all these brands, many involving well-known chocolates that children will beg their parents to buy, it’s clear to see how Nestle stays successful.


Environment

The company has been subject to several environment-related boycotts. Organisations such as The Council of Canadians and the Lakota People’s Law Project have called out Nestle for sourcing water from Canadian regions that have experienced recent droughts, thus endangering the ecosystem further. Similar problems regarding Nestle’s water practices can be found in Maine, Florida and Michigan. On top of that, Nestle’s plastic footprint is one of the largest in the world, with a 2019 global report by Break Free From Plastic [TB1] it as the 2nd largest plastic polluter. It is clear Nestle should increase its efforts in coming up with alternatives to plastic packaging.


Fairtrade concerns

A main ingredient in many Nestle brands is chocolate. The cocoa industry is notorious for low pay, harsh working conditions and inequality. Although Nestle has developed a Cocoa Plan pledging to source 44% of its cocoa in a sustainable way supporting local communities, this means over half of its sourcing could be subject to unethical practices. It’s a good start and the initiative should continue to grow, but there’s still a long way to go.


 

SHEIN

SHEIN is an e-commerce fashion brand. Its business model of a large collection of very cheap clothes has proven successful, with the firm making nearly 10 billion US dollars in 2020. An average price point of about £7 and a great variety of designs and sizes have made this brand increasingly popular among young fashion lovers with a limited budget.


Environment

Like other fast fashion brands, the huge quantity (almost 1k new items drop daily) of cheap, low-quality items SHEIN produces contributes to a culture of buying clothes that will soon be thrown away and end up in landfills. This leads to a large carbon footprint; indeed, fashion is the second most polluting industry globally. In the case of SHEIN, it doesn’t help that there seems to be no information on whether they use hazardous chemicals, and despite claims of using recycled polyester, sustainable materials make up an alarmingly low percentage of their listed items. It is clear that selling fewer, higher quality products would decrease their environmental impact; however, this might go against the successful fast fashion principles.


Working Conditions and Design Plagiarism

Apart from being accused of copying designs from independent designers such as Bailey Prado and Felicity Hayward, the company provides little information on their supply chain and labour conditions. Although they claim to be strictly against forced labour and human trafficking in their 2021 Transparency Statement, their 2021 Sustainability and Social Impact Report found that 66% of their supplier workplaces were categorised as “mediocre”, and 12% presented major safety violations requiring immediate action, such as inadequate working hours or lack of fire safety. Overall, it’s clear that SHEIN should invest in better auditing to avoid empty promises of sustainability and human rights.

 

Amazon

Whatever one is looking for, this website offers almost anything you can think of, from books to phones to a streaming service. Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos are known for their success and high profits, but the company is among the most controversial.

Labour Conditions and Rights

There have been numerous reports about the far than comfortable working conditions at Amazon warehouses, with many employees reporting long working hours, productivity surveillance, isolation from co-workers to minimise distraction and strictly timed restroom breaks. On top of that, Labour Behind the Label’s 2019 report, Tailored Wages UK, found no evidence of a living wage commitment policy. All of this is made worse by the firm notoriously limiting the capacity of its workers to unionise. The first Amazon Union was created on April 2022 in Staten Island; members demand “better pay, better benefits and better working conditions”.


Tax

Despite its great profits and its founder Jeff Bezos being one of the wealthiest people in the world, Amazon seems to pay relatively low figures in corporation tax. In 2018, Channel 4 News reported that profits from Amazon UK Services Limited had increased from £24 million in 2016 to £72 million in 2017; however, their tax payments had decreased by £2.8 million. The firm achieves this by paying some of its employees in the form of shares, which is a legal way to offset corporation tax. But even if legal, many don’t see it as ethical practice. Amazon increasing its tax contributions, given the company’s wealth, could be a good help to public funding.

 

Coca-Cola Company

The Coca-Cola Company includes not only Coca-Cola but many popular beverage brands such as Fanta, Aquarius, Innocent and Minute Maid. A great range of refreshments and eye-catching marketing campaigns have made the firm globally successful.

Environment

The 2019 report by Break Free From Plastic placed The Coca-Cola Company as the world’s top plastic polluter. Other organisations such as Greenpeace have also called out the firm for its poor waste and recycling strategies; according to a Guardian article, Coca-Cola contributes to 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste per year. It’s therefore not surprising that the is not well regarded by environmental protection corporations, facing lawsuits such as that by Earth Island Institute for false advertising and greenwashing. Like many others, The Coca-Cola Company needs to take urgent action on better waste management and alternatives to plastic instead of issuing empty greenwashing statements.


Labour Rights

Labour rights also appear to be weak at the company. The International Union of Food stopped its partnership with the firm in 2019, alleging hostile treatment to union leaders, in the form of disciplinary action and layoffs. Once again the company claims, on paper, to respect all worker’s rights and laws, but whether this is true in the workplace is not that clear.

 

Facebook

Since Facebook’s founding in 2004, it has grown exponentially. Now rebranded as Meta, the company includes the original social network Facebook as well as other social media firms it has acquired over the years, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

Data and Privacy Breaches

As the parent company for so many social platforms, Facebook has access to all forms of information from users all over the world. And it has allegedly not always used it in a safe way. The Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 revealed a large breach of privacy; it was found that the British consulting firm had had access to about 87 million Facebook users globally, and had used it to provide services to political campaigns during the 2016 US general election, particularly for Republican campaigns that proved successful. Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, saw himself speaking in the US Congress, taking responsibility for sharing the data with Cambridge Analytica and publicly apologising.


Misinformation

While Facebook’s executives increase their wealth every year, it seems a large part of their profits may be coming from deeply unethical practices. Several former employees have come forward expressing their concerns for the company’s lack of interest in monitoring dangerous activity and removing misinformation and hate speech. Although Zuckerberg has stated that 94% of hate speech that the network finds before a human reports it is removed, internal reports estimate that the figure is closer to 5%. It may be even more concerning that in 2020, only 16% of misinformation efforts were targeted outside the US. If they wanted to, Facebook could monitor their sites in a much better manner, and reduce anti-democratic propaganda and hate speech around the world.

 

Edited and reviewed by Tanish Bagga.

 

References/Wider reading:

https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/branded-2019.pdf

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/company-profile/nestle-sa

https://us.shein.com/SUPPLY-CHAIN-TRANSPARENCY-STATEMENT-a-1091.html

https://brightly.eco/shein-sustainability/

http://labourbehindthelabel.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/TailoredWagesUK-FP-updated.pdf

https://www.amazonlaborunion.org/about

https://www.earthisland.org/index.php/advocates/suit/coca-cola-plastic

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/14/coca-cola-admits-it-produces-3m-tonnes-of-plastic-packaging-a-year

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/10/25/what-are-the-facebook-papers/

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-43649018


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