What are the most purely evil, yet legal organizations?
July 9, 2018 9:00 PM   Subscribe

What are the most purely evil, yet legal organizations?

Following up on my previous question: How do encourage my company to decline unethical business?, I'm looking for examples of organizations which are clearly, purely and demonstrably evil without being illegal. I want to make the argument with clear examples that there's a line we should not cross in the name of profit.

It's better if they're currently in operation, though historical examples are good too. But they must be beyond the pale and not a mixed bag. I'm thinking things like revenge porn websites or puppy mills. The sort of places that would cause you to stop being friends with someone if you discovered they worked there.
posted by Cogito to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I can't promise I'd abandon friends, but Wal-Mart definitely tops my list.
posted by bendy at 9:20 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]

Scientology and other predatory cults.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 9:24 PM on July 9 [14 favorites]

I'm not sure that it'll be possible to come up with such a list, unless you can first articulate what your own company's ethics are that you can use as a basis. After all there's going to be some people who either believe directly in a purely legalistic standard (less common), or who believe businesses should be run on a purely legalistic standard (more common).

For example, the first thing that came to mind was a faculty candidate who interviewed at my alma mater some years back, talking about his research on OCR and finding it was more effective to develop a system for scanning pages from phone books, transmit them to foreign countries with low wages for workers to manually transcribe the info, then consolidate it into databases to sell to marketers. I voted against hiring him so hard and with no regrets—his research was scientifically unremarkable, and involved exploiting sweatshops in the service of spammers how evil can you get?

...Except of course that's not "pure evil" to everyone, it's "mixed bag". There's all sorts of arguments (that I won't help by repeating) about how that side of capitalism is actually for the Greater Good because blah blah blah. So it's not an example of what you're looking for even though my own inclination is to think it is.

(I'm pretty sure part of the reason I thought of that guy was because of the similar thread over on the blue.)
posted by traveler_ at 9:26 PM on July 9

The American white supremacist publication Stormfront is an organization that many tech companies have refused to do business with on ethical grounds.
posted by firechicago at 9:27 PM on July 9 [15 favorites]

Blackwater / Academi
Carlyle Group
posted by Gotanda at 9:27 PM on July 9 [8 favorites]

Historical example: The Royal African Company
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:27 PM on July 9

Martin Shkreli / Turing Pharmaceuticals:

In September 2015, Shkreli received widespread criticism when Turing obtained the manufacturing license for the antiparasitic drug Daraprim and raised its price by a factor of 56 (from US$13.5 to $750 per pill), leading him to be referred to by the media as "the most hated man in America" and "'Pharma Bro'".
posted by salvia at 9:55 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]

Cigarette manufacturers
posted by EatMyHat at 9:56 PM on July 9 [17 favorites]

Depending on your ethics, a few that come to mind:

Westboro Baptist Church - Suing communities that don't let them protest
Palantir - Scraping your personal data en masse for predictive policing
Nestlé - The infamous breastmilk scandal
posted by matrixclown at 10:13 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aka ICE. It’s an organization that took advantage of Trump’s election, and the accompanying normalization of bigotry and xenophobia, to start doing really evil shit like arresting people when they arrive at court to make the case they belong here, or just raping people.
posted by ejs at 10:21 PM on July 9 [12 favorites]

the NRA.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:24 PM on July 9 [25 favorites]

Mug shot publishing sites that charge fees for removal, particularly those that charge if you're found not guilty or the charges are dropped.
posted by zachlipton at 11:06 PM on July 9 [16 favorites]

The Ku Klux Klan (yes, it's still around!)
Various Neo-Nazi groups
posted by SisterHavana at 11:50 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]

I'd make the case for two Australian companies as demonstrations of 'lines not to cross in the name of profit':
* James Hardie, a company that mined and processed asbestos, became aware of the consequences in the late 1970s, and restructured its corporate affairs in the 1980s solely in order to avoid medical liability to its workers, and
* Aristocrat which makes poker machines of really vicious addictiveness, and which are designed to exploit people with existing gambling problems, and of such lobbying power that the country has more poker machines per person than almost anywhere else on the planet.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:52 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]

The Nordic Resistance Movement is an openly nazi organization that continues to be legal, to the point of being a registered political party in Sweden (and enjoying the resulting freedom-of-speech benefits). I and most people I know would have zero compunction about shunning anyone who does business with them.
posted by Vesihiisi at 11:53 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]

There's an entire genre of charities which do little more than funnel donations into their directors' pockets, and put very little money or effort into their alleged charitable mission. (Some might include in this group also the stereotypical mansion-dwelling private-jet-flying televangelist.)
posted by kickingtheground at 12:17 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]

British American tobacco "sold its Australian subsidiary entirely to its hong Kong branch, purely so it could take advantage of an investor state dispute clause in our free trade agreement with China - to get rid of plain packaging. They lost. They also routinely publish terrible research about illegal tobacco on the market to push back against taxes.

Shell's knowledge of and denial of climate change, coupled with their terrible actions in Nigeria, make them pretty bad in my book. Mining companies in general are pretty bad.
posted by smoke at 2:25 AM on July 10

The DSEI is a trade fair run in London every two years for arms dealers. They are repeatedly found to be enabling the sale of weapons which are actually illegal to use in the UK. So the organisation running that could probably be seen as pretty evil by most. And yet it continues.
posted by greenish at 2:51 AM on July 10


Nestle for sure.

Anything that destroys rain forest.
posted by Jacen at 4:07 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


- Evangelical groups that support discrimination against LGBTQ
groups , subjugation of women, and just plan nastyness

- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

- Whatever Richard Spencer is
posted by james33 at 4:27 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

In terms of their products' disastrous and widespread effect on people's health, I'd say cigarette and auto manufacturers.
posted by entropone at 4:29 AM on July 10

Ashley Madison - charges fees for married people to find other married people to have affairs with
posted by thesockpuppet at 5:14 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

posted by Thorzdad at 5:15 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]

Bell Canada.

They used to be a monopoly, and in the 90s, when other phone companies tried to launch here (I believe Sprint was the first), they reacted by simply lowering their fees to below cost in order to make it impossible for a competitor. The government declared that illegal and we got more competition.

When the internet started becoming more popular, they charged outrageous fees, but the government insisted that Bell didn't really "own" the infrastructure, even though they'd built it, because it was our taxes that funded it. It therefore became necessary for Bell to lease those "pipes" to competitors at wholesale rates. When people started flocking to those competitors, Bell insisted that it was their right to throttle those connections.

And on and on. They're evil and among the worst companies in Canada, in my opinion.
posted by dobbs at 5:28 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]

Payday loan companies
posted by O9scar at 6:52 AM on July 10 [11 favorites]

Definitely Palantir.
posted by dame at 7:25 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of good candidates listed here, but one to look at is the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It was practically a state unto itself, and was responsible for slavery, massacres, environmental destruction, and so on. In terms of the number of people immiserated and severity of their misery, the VOC is right up there. The British East India Company was also not exactly a great corporate citizen.
posted by adamrice at 7:55 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

A number of mining companies have run operations knowing that they'll be able to strip the company of its cash and never be on the hook for the resulting environmental cleanup operations. I'd say that qualifies.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:00 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Monsanto may have some okay products, but it is a huge multinational that behaves badly. They have merged with Bayer and taken that name, but Bayer made gas for the Nazi gas chambers, so, yeah.
US Gun manufacturers/ NRA.
Big Lobbyists
Big Oil.
Coal mining companies, in addition to other mining companies.
Big banks that tanked the US economy.
Koch Industries.
Whaling industry.
Big, and maybe less big, defense contractors.
posted by theora55 at 8:38 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Payday lenders, and TitleMax.
posted by witchen at 8:48 AM on July 10

Private prisons (including private immigration detention centers)
Police officer associations and unions
Prison guard unions
posted by gingerbeer at 10:47 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Somebody posted this above, but to elaborate further: ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. They provide a forum where corporations create draft legislation, basically model bills that push their own corporate interests, generally at the expense of citizens, and then wine and dine state legislators in an attempt to influence them to pass the bills. According to the Wikipedia page I linked to, approximately 200 such bills pass annually nationwide, so they have quite a lot of influence.
posted by number9dream at 11:41 AM on July 10

I actually think historic examples (like the British East India Company) might be more persuasive than ones current. Although extremely unfair, people might find excuses for current companies. Per examples above, "but ICE is such a political topic" or "yeah but my cousin needs his job at Walmart" or "Pharmabro was terrible but people needed those drugs right?" Some easy way to throw a wrench in, because they want an excuse for profit or because they are trying to be "fair".

But history makes one feel easy about being black and white; when one has no connection or possible social shame for calling something evil, it is simpler to say "we'd never do business with THEM". This isn't morally right but it's very common in my experience. In the obvious use case, some people aren't sure if we should be violent in our response to the alt-right but Nazis, oh Nazis are obviously evil and that was a just war.

So Old Bad Things might be easier to get people to agree "yes, never - we would never work with THEM." And once you agree that some things aren't worth profiting from, you appeal to their moral ego that this case now yes, it is awful too, and we can be strong in saying no.

That sounds so cynical typed out but yeah: getting people on the same page and then applying real world situations in accordance to the rules they just agreed to is easier and more powerful than getting straight into the arguments of the "yes, but" of the seemingly more messy present.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 5:55 PM on July 10

posted by WCityMike at 8:27 PM on July 10

posted by vert canard at 11:24 AM on July 11

Puppy mills are nothing compared to what Big Ag companies like Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue etc get away with, never mind the amount of pollution caused by factory farming and the dangerous conditions for the workers therein.
posted by crone islander at 1:22 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]

posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:17 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]

Holy crap, Hatreon sounds like something I would've made up as a hypothetical perfect answer.
posted by Cogito at 10:41 PM on July 11

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