Fred Wilcox is a writing professor at Ithaca College and a long-time peace activist.
Corporate Social Responsibility
By Will Vickery
By John Aloysius Farrell, Ben Wieder and Evan Bush
The Center for Media and Democracy is re-posting this article from John Aloysius Farrell, Ben Wieder, and Evan Bush at iWatch News, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, as part of our effort to track Koch Industries and ALEC via our ALECexposed.org project and to expose corporate spin. The original can be found here. For more, see Farrell's April 2011 article "Koch's web of influence" and Cole Goins' August 2011 article "What's it like living near a chemical plant?," both also on iWatch. To find out about chemical plants near you, download the spreadsheet of data gathered from the risk management plans that Koch files with the EPA.
At the end of May, as the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee (JFC) worked day after day and late into the night voting on changes and amendments to the state budget bill, Joint Finance Co-Chair Alberta Darling (R-River Falls) quietly slipped a small provision into the massive budget bill that has received little attention.
At a rally held in front of Chase Bank on Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin today, a few dozen people gathered to air their grievances against Chase and other U.S. corporations who will pay no taxes for 2010. Jeff Kravat of MoveOn hosted the rally along with Gene Lundergan, who gathered a group of four or five people to present a tax bill of almost $2 billion to the branch bank manager. This bill, for $1.988 billion, was drawn up using Chase's 2010 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and a December 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (pdf). When Lundergan, Steve Hughes of Young Progressives and several others approached the front entrance of the bank, they were refused admission by the security guard, so they left the bill propped in the front window.
As evidence mounts linking sugar consumption to increasing rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the soda industry is fighting back, in part by ramping up philanthropy and developing partnerships. After the Philadelphia City Council introduced a measure to add a two-cent tax on soda, the soda industry's lobbying group, the American Beverage Association created the "Foundation for a Healthy America," a new front group that donated $10 million to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia -- to expand its obesity program. The soda tax would have raised about $20 million for obesity prevention programs plus even more money for the city's general fund. Despite this, the soda tax proposal fizzled and Philadelphia's City Council declined to revisit the issue. In a similar move, Coca Cola funded a North Carolina School of Public Health campaign against childhood obesity. The slogan? "Everything in moderation." Even the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report titled (pdf) "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future," which contains an odd "personal perspective" written by Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi, that reads like a press release. Nooyi boasts about Pepsi's partnership with the YMCA, promotes the company's "responsible advertising" and a self-regulatory project in which the company apparently monitors its own advertising to children under 12.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific advisory panel handed FDA the information it needs to add menthol to the list of flavorings banned in cigarettes. After a year of studying the cigarette additive menthol, the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on March 19, 2011 released a long-awaited report (pdf) that concludes menthol is more than just a flavoring agent; it has chemical effects that increase the probability of addiction. The panel wrote, "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." The panel specifically cited menthol's effects on youth, saying "the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth." The report concludes that "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Despite this conclusion, the panel failed to recommend FDA take steps to remove menthol from cigarettes. Tobacco companies brushed off the report, since their political and legal might makes them a bulwark against any government effort to ban menthol. The report was so inconsequential to the industry, in fact, that tobacco company stock prices actually jumped after the report was released.
Lorillard, Inc., manufacturer of the country's best-selling menthol cigarette, Newport, is working behind the scenes to keep the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from banning menthol as a cigarette flavorant. Adopting a PR tactic other embattled companies like Bank of America and Altria have used, Lorillard is scooping up a host of menthol-bashing domain names to keep them out of the hands of critics, including MentholKills.com, KillerMenthol.com, MentholKillsMinorities.com and MentholAddictsYouth.com. Menthol acts as a mild local anesthetic in the throat, which critics say masks the harsh taste of cigarettes and makes them more appealing to younger users. Studies show that menthol cigarettes are disproportionately popular among African Americans, a group that also has a higher rate of smoking-related disease than the general population. An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to decide in March whether to
recommend ditching menthol in cigarettes across the board, including
Lorillard's flagship brand. Congress passed legislation in 2009 giving FDA more power to regulate tobacco, including artificial flavorants.
A recent Spin of the Day item on PRWatch says that Bank of America bought up hundreds of derogatory Internet domain names related to their business, like BankofAmericaSucks.com and BrianMoynihanBlows.com (referring to BofA's CEO). Purchasing derogatory domain names is a quiet but common corporate strategy to try to minimize or contain bad PR.