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The Dark Side of the “World’s Most Admired” Companies

Two-faced businessmen spit out money
(Illustration modified from Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Fortune magazine recently released its 2018 list of the World’s Most Admired Companies. From a pool of roughly 1,500 candidates, Fortune picked the 50 “best-regarded companies in 52 industries.” Apple topped the list for the eleventh year straight. General Electric plummeted in the last year from number 7 to number 30. Lockheed Martin and Adidas both cracked the top 50 for the first time.

Of course, Fortune’s ranking is somewhat skewed and self-serving. It is based on a survey of corporate executives and financial analysts. “Admiration” is measured according to criteria that emphasize companies’ financial shape over their track record of integrity and business ethics.

So, we took it upon ourselves to document the dark side of the world’s 50 most admired companies. Ten of the companies are in our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD), which includes civil, criminal, and administrative misconduct instances dating back to 1995 for 220 of the federal government's largest contractors. All but 3 of the top 50 are in Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker corporate misconduct database, which includes enforcement data from the federal regulatory agencies and the Justice Department dating back to 2000 for over 2,800 companies. Both databases show that most of the companies have multiple instances of misconduct for which they paid millions of dollars in fines, penalties, judgments, and settlements.

Click on dollar figures in the table to go to the company’s summary page in the FCMD and Violation Tracker:

Fortune RankCompanyFCMD InstancesFCMD Misconduct Dollar AmountViolation Tracker RecordsViolation Tracker Penalty Total
1 Apple     1 $32,500,000
2 Amazon     26 $5,022,375
3 Alphabet     4 $541,507,657
4 Berkshire Hathaway 1 $896,000 2,205 $388,557,922
5 Starbucks     15 $4,204,571
6 Walt Disney     32 $9,503,247
7 Microsoft     1 $5,855,841
8 Southwest Airlines     289 $18,440,515
9 FedEx 58 $759,688,721 168 $16,841,391
10 JPMorgan Chase     77 $29,459,586,865
11 Netflix        
12 Facebook     1 $5,600
13 Costco     35 $15,149,903
14 American Express     16 $350,226,556
15 Salesforce.com     1 $11,009
16 Nike     1 $24,040
17 Johnson & Johnson     23 $3,005,373,378
18 Coca-Cola     85 $7,061,416
19 BMW     4 $5,250,769
20 USAA        
21 3M Company     56 $6,287,531
22 Home Depot     123 $14,631,028
23 BlackRock     4 $14,265,350
24 Marriott International     64 $2,560,108
25 Boeing 68 $1,456,813,493 51 $798,109,276
26 Walmart     235 $174,764,973
27 Goldman Sachs     21 $9,526,227,860
28 Nordstrom     7 $757,935
29 Toyota     22 $1,322,336,919
30 General Electric 62 $648,594,796 132 $325,158,028
31 Delta Air Lines     584 $278,282,059
32 Singapore Airlines     7 $48,082,000
33 UPS 18 $389,305,420 243 $75,052,672
34 Procter & Gamble     28 $837,281
35 IBM 26 $916,069,818 9 $20,453,203
36 Exxon Mobil 97 $3,242,127,429 248 $1,023,262,058
37 McDonald’s     19 $636,136
38 Target     57 $5,817,664
39 CVS Health     118 $738,534,720
40 Accenture 9 $124,219,559 1 $63,675,000
41 PepsiCo     108 $7,115,748
42 Adidas     2 $26,000,000
43 Caterpillar     70 $3,874,043
44 Unilever     16 $4,806,905
45 Intel     2 $894,000
46 Visa        
47 Nestlé     58 $9,189,176
48 Lockheed Martin 85 $767,331,643 74 $158,774,793
49 AT&T 22 $311,615,102 164 $433,474,022
50 Charles Schwab     4 $118,441,800
Totals 445 $8,616,661,981 5,511 $49,067,425,343

Alphabet (#3) is the parent company of Google.

Berkshire Hathaway (#4) is a multinational conglomerate consisting of dozens of subsidiaries, including BNSF Railway Company. The vast majority of Berkshire Hathaway’s records in Violation Tracker are BNSF railroad safety violations. We are aware of only one misconduct incident involving the Berkshire Hathaway corporate entity itself: an $896,000 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2014 over a financial reporting violation.

Two of the companies in the top 50 were in the news recently for questionable business conduct. Accenture (#40) paid $1.7 million to settle charges of overbilling the U.S. Army. Lockheed Martin (#48) agreed to a $4.4 million deal resolving allegations that it provided defective communications equipment to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Overall, these 50 companies have racked up thousands of misconduct instances and billions of dollars in penalties for a wide range of misbehavior including defective medical equipment, consumer fraud, unsafe workplaces, foreign bribery, environmental violations, and submitting false invoices on government contracts.

By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO

Neil Gordon, Investigator Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Ethics, Contractor Accountability, Conflicts of Interest, Human Trafficking, Iraq & Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts, Katrina Contracting, Contractor Misconduct, Federal Contractor Misconduct, False Claims Act

Authors: Neil Gordon

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