April Fool's Day is approaching fast, and Green America has devised an interesting way to make fun and make a point. It has launched a Facebook campaign to allow consumers to vote for the "Biggest Corporate Fool" in the U.S. for 2012.
There are nine nominees vying for this particular booby prize, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and eight private companies. They were nominated by Green America and other social justice and environmental groups. Most are well known for their corporate shenanigans. But a few of the nominees are being called out for behavior that may be news to many consumers.
Here are the nominees:
Vote for America's Biggest 'Corporate Fool'
Bank of America (BAC): This too-big-to-fail bank is no stranger to consumer outrage. Despite its role as bailout poster child, it raised ire when it tried to hike debit fees for its customers, and its plans to lay off 30,000 workers certainly doesn't help lower the ranks of the unemployed. Meanwhile, the Rainforest Action Network called it out for its involvement in "every aspect of the coal industry," including loans to big mining companies.
Chevron (CVX): Last February, Chevron was ordered to pay $18 billion to clean up the mess it's allegedly made in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The oil giant is accused of dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in the rainforest over the course of 30 years, leaving local people to suffer from long-term ill effects like cancers, miscarriages and birth defects.
Hershey (HSY): When it comes to labor practices, Hershey's sweet chocolate treats now carry a bitter aftertaste that sullies founder Milton Hershey's legacy for responsible corporate behavior. The company has fallen behind rivals when it comes to responsible sourcing of cocoa: Most of its cocoa comes from West Africa, where forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking show there's a high human price to pay for cheap chocolate. Hershey recently made a move in the right direction, but it's got a long way to go.
Monsanto (MON): This mega-agribusiness has made sure that genetically modified organisms are permeating our food supply. If you haven't noticed, it's because there are no labeling requirements in the U.S. for GMOs. A major percentage of U.S. corn, soy, rice, cotton, canola and sugar beets are genetically modified thanks to Monsanto, and not only do these ingredients end up in a heck of a lot of our food, but they're also used to feed factory farmed animals as well. Monsanto's rough treatment of small farmers is infamous. Many farmers who choose not to use Monsanto's products have been sued by the company for patent infringement when its seeds and pollen have contaminated their crops.
Southern (SO): This giant utility company is being called out for being a giant polluter. The EPA recently said Southern operates three of the worst-polluting power plants in the U.S., and the Clean Air Task Force took the company to task for causing thousands of deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and chronic bronchitis cases every year.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce: This business lobbying group has been one of the chief beneficiaries of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows trade associations to pay for express advocacy -- communication like television and radio ads telling people to vote for or against candidates -- with money from their general treasuries. Trade associations like the Chamber are not required to disclose their donors, so the people watching the ads have no way of knowing who supplied the money for them. In essence, this means that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on ads bought through the Chamber without the public, their customers, or their shareholders knowing they did. And they are.
Verizon (VZ): Can you hear me now? Bad. Verizon's been nominated for several unfriendly practices, such as taking taxpayer subsidies while at the same time devising new fees for customers (such as its attempt to charge them $2 to use online bill payment). One of its ways it has been boosting its profits was reducing worker benefits, and it has also eliminated tens of thousands of wireline jobs over the past four years.
Walmart (WMT): The Bentonville behemoth is no stranger to lists like this one. The organization Jobs With Justice nominated the megadiscounter for its low pay and its reduction of health benefits for some employees. The organization also called it out for burning more than 1 billion miles' worth of fossil fuel every year.
Yum! Brands (YUM): Yum! Brands is the company behind Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC. Its KFC subsidiary is being accused of a major greenwashing campaign to cover up the fact that it buys packaging made by cutting down endangered forests in our own American South. Its suppliers also use practices like clear-cutting and ditching and draining wetlands, as well as toxic chemicals. What would Colonel Sanders have to say?
Consumers can cast their ballot for Green America's Corporate Fools competition here. The winner will be announced on April 1. Given the serious accusations of those who put forth their nominations, that dubious "winner" will be no joke.
Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walmart, Yum! Brands, and Bank of America. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Chevron, Walmart, Yum! Brands, and Southern, as well as creating a diagonal call position in Walmart and a synthetic long position in Monsanto.