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 Rank||Company||FCMD Instances||FCMD Misconduct Dollar Amount||Violation Tracker Records||Violation Tracker Penalty Total|
|17||Johnson & Johnson||23||$3,005,373,378|
|31||Delta Air Lines||584||$278,282,059|
|34||Procter & Gamble||28||$837,281|
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.