Judicial dissolution, sometimes called the corporate death penalty, is a legal procedure in which a corporation is forced to dissolve or cease to exist.
A “corporate death penalty” is the revocation of a corporation’s charter for significant harm to society. In some countries there are corporate manslaughter laws, however, almost all countries enable the revocation of a corporate charter. There have been numerous calls in the literature for a “corporate death penalty”. Most recently a study argued that industries that kill more people each year than they employ should have an industry-wide corporate death penalty. Some legal analysis has been done on the idea to revoke corporate charters for environmental violations such as for severe environmental pollution. Actual corporate death penalties in the United States are rarely used. For example, Markoff has shown that no publicly traded company failed because of a conviction that occurred between 2001 and 2010.
Companies suggested as deserving the corporate death penalty include Eli Lilly & Company, Equifax, Unocal Corporation, and Wells Fargo. “If Volkswagen or other examples in this volume were forced out of existence, this would send a message,” John Hulpke wrote in the Journal of Management Inquiry in 2017.
One argument against its use is that otherwise innocent employees and shareholders will lose money or their jobs. But author David Dayen argues in The New Republic that “the risk of a corporate death penalty should inspire active governance practices to protect their investments.”
In 1890, New York’s highest court revoked the charter of the North River Sugar Refining Corporation on the grounds that it was abusing its powers as a monopoly.
Would a Corporate Death Penalty be cruel and unusual punishment?
“Instead of asking why a corporation can speak as freely as a person, perhaps we should ask, “Why is money considered speech?””
Executing a corporation would be similar to declaring a chapter 7 bankruptcy, with a few additional steps to ensure that the actual people hiding behind the corporation committing these atrocities don’t profit from them. First, nationalize the corporation to ensure that all equity holders forfeit their investments. Then all worldwide assets need to be confiscated. And as a final act of deterrence, all members of the board of directors and corporate executives must have all their assets seized and be banned from employment for life. If their conduct rises to the level of a crime, the executives must also be held personally liable according to the laws of the criminal justice system. Some executives have to be jailed.
Humans receive the death penalty for the most heinous crimes. Why shouldn’t corporate legal personhood also come with the death penalty? Is it that they get to be people when they benefit but cease being people when they need to be punished? No!
IG Farben Companies: Bayer, Sanofi, BASF and Agfa
IG Farben, one of the world’s biggest chemical cartels, was not merely a passive beneficiary of the the Nazis and the Holocaust. They were active participants. The Nuremberg trial transcripts show us that the executives of IG Farben directed and controlled Hitler’s policies. In the 1930s, IG Farben was the biggest contributor to the Nazi party. It even helped form an economic plan on behalf of the Nazi party. The passage below is an example of the IG Farben executives pulling the levers behind the scene in the Nazi party.
IG Farben executives were also instrumental in convincing Von Pappen to hand over the proverbial keys to the kingdom to Hitler in 1933. Its collaboration didn’t stop there. It was one of the most loyal ideologues for the Nazi party. The Nuremberg trials exposed the infernal depths of IG Farben‘s crimes. The company itself was deemed liable for: slavery, genocide, and illegal human experimentation. Its biggest profit came from selling Zyklon-B to the Nazis, the gas used in the gas chambers, the most common death penalty apparatus used by the Nazis.
In 1945, IG Farben was dissolved for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The executives were also later tried in a different proceeding. In 1948, many of IG Farben’s executives were found guilty of war crimes. One prominent executive was Fritz Ter Meer, who was convicted for creating Auschwitz. His other crimes included: slavery, genocide, mass rape and crimes against humanity. Ter Meer only served two years in prison for his role in one of the worst atrocities known to man. In 1950, he was paroled for “good behavior.” However, the three powers in the Western zone: France, UK and the US reconstituted the IG Farben cartel into four companies: BASF, Bayer, Sanofi and Agfa. The original shareholders (who were convicted of perpetuating the Holocaust) were given ownership and all their assets back. In fact, Fritz der Meer was reinstated and he continued to serve on the Board of Directors for Bayer until his death. The descendants of the IG Farben executives are still some of the wealthiest people in Germany.
The IG Farben companies seemed to have continued their culture of ethnonationalism. In the 1990s, they admitted to deliberately infecting Africans with HIV and paid millions for this crime. In 2015, after it became public that Bayer tested a cancer medication on Indians, India revoked a drug patent for Bayer. Contravening Indian law, they did not make the drug available for Indians even though they had no problem experimenting on Indians during the R&D phase. Responding to the Indian Supreme Court ruling, then CEO Marijn Dekkers exclaimed, “We did not develop this medicine for Indians. We developed it for western patients who can afford it.”
Adding Monsanto’s Crimes to Bayer’s Balance Sheet
Monsanto ran the defoliation campaign using Agent Orange in Vietnam. Even today, children in Vietnam still suffer birth defects. On top of it, Monsanto tested the effects of Agent Orange on US soldiers, for which they paid compensation. They also sprayed cancer causing pesticides in Hawaii.
Chiquita – Pleading Guilty to Hiring Colombian Death Squads
In 2000, a Chiquita executive admitted to hiring Colombian paramilitaries that were classified by the US government as terrorist organizations. The Chiquita executives claimed that it was for “security purposes.” Of course, these paramilitaries didn’t protect the factories. Instead, they “subdued the land,” marching indigenous people at gunpoint on a “trail of tears.” On top of displacing thousands, these paramilitaries have killed at least 4000 people.
The most unforgivable part is that the attorney who defended Chiquita was the former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. During the Bush years, Eric Holder negotiated with the justice department on behalf of the Chiquita executives. All his clients pled guilty. None of them went to jail and Chiquita was fined only $25 million. Eric Holder even made a statement chastising the justice department for the proverbial slap on the wrist. He claimed, “If what you want to encourage is voluntary self-disclosure, what message does this send to other companies? Here’s a company that voluntarily self-discloses in a national security context, where the company gets treated pretty harshly,[and] then on top of that, you go after individuals who made a really painful decision.”
Nestlé – Infant Deaths, Slavery and Water Privatization
Nestlé illegally marketed their infant formula to poor women in Africa, who were forced to work long hours to make ends meet. They marketed it as a convenience, in contravention to national laws and international code. Nestle’s actions increased the infant mortality rate in Burkina Faso and Togo. Every year, nearly 25% of Togo’s infant mortality and 11% of Burkina Faso’s infant mortality are caused by baby formula.
Nestle is a huge maker of chocolate in the world and 60% of the chocolate its manufacture uses child slave labor in Africa. However, Nestle won’t monitor thitseir supply chain to make sure they don’t use child slaves. Instead, it continues violating the law and all morality brazenly and without consequence.
Like many other companies in South America, Nestle funded death squads in Colombia which murdered many union workers and activists. Finally, Nestle is using up the world’s fresh water supply for bottling and making water too expensive for people to drink.
Other honorable mentions for privatizing water:
- Bechtel not only privatized the water, but they even got rights to the rain. After Bolivia asserted its sovereignty, Bechtel tried to sue Bolivia in the World Bank Arbitration court. Thankfully after public outcry, the suit was dismissed.
Umicore is the successor company for Belgian Union Minere. As soon as Congo got its independence, it funded paramilitaries to create an ethnostate called the “Free State of Katanga.” The white nationalist paramilitaries were responsible for assassinating Patrice Lumumba, and later, these same paramilitaries assassinated the first UN secretary General Dag Hammarskjold.
To learn more about these atrocities, listen to our interview with Andreas Rocksen.
In 1964, a BBC Comedy sketch succinctly explained all the atrocities committed by this one company:
Shell Oil, through corruption, received concessions to drill in the Niger-Delta. Sometimes, when the prime drilling spot was on top of a village or town, they paid paramilitaries to displace people and murder any activists who spoke out against the colonization of their homes. Shell also intentionally polluted areas in the Niger Delta, making parts of it uninhabitable, displacing 40,000 people. In violation of local law, Shell refuses to clean up these areas that they polluted.
They are also responsible for killing entire fisheries, which further threatens an already food-insecure population.
Other Fossil Fuel Disasters: Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and BP
Check out our interview with Greg Palast to understand how Katrina was a manmade disaster created by the oil companies.
Nearly 9000 miles around the US gulf coast is a “dead-zone.” This means that it cannot support marine life. Tyson, which has food production factories in many locations along this coast, is deemed the #1 culprit in creating their dead zone
It also abuses its labor force. Tyson regularly smuggles undocumented immigrants across the border. However, if these trafficked individuals tried to form a union, Tyson has no problem siccing ICE on their trafficked labor force. Last year, Tyson sicced ICE on employees who demanded a decent wage. While ICE arrested the parents, children were left alone and crying.
Amidst the covid crisis, Tyson employees in California have compared their conditions to modern slavery.
Purdue Pharmaceuticals had a shamleless predatory scheme to market addictive opioids to doctors. It also employed a quasi-legal bonus scheme to bribe doctors, pharmacies and healthcare workers to further the atrocity. The NIH explains all their predatory behavior:
From 1996 to 2001, Purdue conducted more than 40 national pain-management and speaker-training conferences at resorts in Florida, Arizona, and California. More than 5000 physicians, pharmacists, and nurses attended these all-expenses-paid symposia, where they were recruited and trained for Purdue’s national speaker bureau…
One of the cornerstones of Purdue’s marketing plan was the use of sophisticated marketing data to influence physicians’ prescribing. Drug companies compile prescriber profiles on individual physicians—detailing the prescribing patterns of physicians nationwide—in an effort to influence doctors’ prescribing habits. Through these profiles, a drug company can identify the highest and lowest prescribers of particular drugs in a single zip code, county, state, or the entire country.
A lucrative bonus system encouraged sales representatives to increase sales of OxyContin in their territories, resulting in a large number of visits to physicians with high rates of opioid prescriptions, as well as a multifaceted information campaign aimed at them. In 2001, in addition to the average sales representative’s annual salary of $55 000, annual bonuses averaged $71 500, with a range of $15 000 to nearly $240 000. Purdue paid $40 million in sales incentive bonuses to its sales representatives that year.”
Obviously, there are many more corporations that probably deserve the death penalty! If there is a candidate you’d like to nominate, please comment and I will see if I can add it to the list