Corporations and institutions with relative high visibility have a lot to lose when internal misconduct is exposed. If you are an institution, such as a school, prison, or government body, internal misconduct can strongly shake the public’s confidence in how that misconduct will impact the groups and communities being served. Embarrassing, pervasive issues, such as a business party culture, can really drive down faith in your brand. If you’re a large corporate chain, such as Walmart, or McDonald’s, your corporate culture is subject to criticism from current/past employees, with heavy emphasis on how that corporate culture effects both productivity and the workforce.
Just one week after ringing in the new year, McDonald’s current CEO, Chris Kempczinski, has announced that he plans to bring an end to the business party culture embroiled in their corporate atmosphere. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kempczinski, “…is seeking to restore a more professional culture at McDonald’s after what some current and former employees described as an environment influenced by his predecessor’s late-night socializing with some executives and staffers at bars and flirtations with female employees…” This business party culture was pervasive. His predecessor, Steve Eastbrook, was terminated in November of 2019 after he confessed to having a relationship with an employee. What is particularly problematic about these circumstances is that healthy corporate culture begins with leadership. When leadership behaves ethically within the organization, employees are more likely to follow that example. When executives, managers, and supervisors are not held accountable for bad behavior, it sends a message to the rest of the organization that poisons the well of corporate culture.
But inappropriate personal conduct is not the only challenge
currently facing McDonald’s culture. Strains imposed by the franchises’
renovation program has franchisees challenging their relationship with the
corporation. In addition, unions are still reeling from a decision handed down
by a national union-organizing supervision board, which states that the
corporation will no longer be liable for labor violations committed by its
franchisees. Labor advocates who made their concerns apparent to the board were
ignored, and the decision came down with a 2-1 vote. In the background,
employees continue their cause of “Fight For 15,” in reference to their desire
to have McDonald’s starting wage raised to $15 per hour.
Kempczinski’s promise to diffuse a business party culture within the corporation is a promising start—however, in order to make meaningful changes to the corporation, there needs to be a top-to-bottom evaluation of internal processes, and of the behavior exhibited by leadership—both in the public view and behind closed doors. That is why so many institutions and corporations are subjecting their internal operations to a corporate culture audit to ensure that they won’t be caught unawares about the debilitating, pervasive issues within their organization. Regardless of quality, corporate culture moves in a cycle. The actions of leadership filter down through the workforce, influencing productivity and engagement from employees. Employees either contribute positively or negatively to the corporation as a result of that leadership, and that leads directly back to leadership in a supervisory capacity. For the sake of a long-beloved American corporation, let’s hope that Kempczinski follows through on his promise for change.
It’s mind-boggling to think that some of the most controversial scandals in our country’s history have taken place only in the last decade. Corporate scandal is a hot media item, with the misbehavior of employees at all levels facing public scrutiny. Information on corporations and their corporate culture is more visible than ever as experts continue to place more and more importance on work-life balance, and satisfaction in the workplace remaining the driving force behind employee engagement. As technology and the ubiquity of accessible information continues to advance, private United States citizens are becoming more informed about the largest corporations in the nation, how their behavior effects their corporate footprint, and how their own consumerism can affect these corporations.
BP Oil Spil
There’s no better place to start than at the beginning. In April of 2010, the oil and gas conglomerate BP began the new decade with an oil spill so catastrophic that we’re still talking about the environmental impact ten years later. The corporate scandal also involved devastating loss. The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which broke open the will, dumping between 2.5 and 4.2 million barrels of oil into the gulf before it could be capped once more. For thousands of miles, the oil slicks contributed to the deterioration of marine life and had cost the corporation in excess of $65 billion dollars before 2020. In an article published in June of 2010, Peter Fairly of MIT Technology stated, “A culture of tighter safety and more experienced regulators might have prevented the BP Deepwater Horizon leak.” Under the terms of a settlement, BP agreed to pay the Natural Resource Damage Asessment Trustees up to $8.8 billion for restoration work to rebuild the natural environment that was damaged by the spill.
Later in 2010, there was an alarming string of suicides at a plant run by Foxconn, a Chinese corporation that produces roughly 40% of the world’s consumer electronic components—technology that builds our smartphones, gaming consoles, and other forms of smart technology. These tragedies were covered heavily in American media as questions arose to the quality of labor conditions in these Chinese plants. In subsequent investigations, it was revealed that workers could be working 12-hour shifts, with less than a dollar (U.S.) in their pocket for food. While the suicides received a great deal of coverage, and had public relations repercussions for corporations that utilize Foxconn exports, there have been at least 8 additional suicides at the same factor have been reported since 2010.
Few things are more universally loved across the globe than soccer, or football, as it’s known in the rest of the world. In May of 2015, millions of soccer fans were shaken by the FIFA corruption corporate scandal. The Department of Justice indicted the Federation Internationale de Football Association leadership on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money-laundering. The indictment outlined various instances of an excess of $15 million dollars in bribes taken by executives for preserving advertisement marketing rights for decades. The scandal lead to the resignation of President Sepp Blatter in June of 2015 after he managed to escape indictment. Millions of dollars in legal costs and loss of corporate sponsorship severely damaged the reputation of the organization, netting losses of $122.4 million.
Theranos & Elizabeth Holmes
The scandal surrounding the health technology company known as Theranos was a cluster 15 years in the making. Once again a corporate scandal that effected public health, both the executive and the corporation were villified in the media. Stemming from a fear of needles when she was a child, founder Elizabeth Holmes was seeking to develop a technology that would lead to higher accessibility of blood-testing throughout the world. Her device supposedly would be able to perform a smattering of biological tests from a single drop of blood. The Wall Street Journal published an expose in October of 2015, exposing more of the company’s deception and further implicating some of Holmes’ colleagues in the scandal. Holmes was charged with massive fraud in March 2018. Formerly thought of as a young genius, she is scheduled to stand trial in 2020, facing up to 20 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
Big Pharma & the Opioid Crisis
Corporate scandal is at it’s worst when it comes to public health. The ever-growing opioid crisis in the United States is hands down one of the most pervasive scandals of the last decade. In 2017 alone, there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States. Of those overdose deaths, 67% came from an overdose of opioids. From the Midwest to the Northeast, opioid deaths spiked between 2016 and 2017. As of November 2019, six pharmaceutical companies were under federal investigation and were facing federal charges for their responsibility for the opioid crisis. Amongst other big pharma companies, Purdue Pharma reached settled for billions of dollars for communities in 23 states that were affected by their shipment of opioids, forcing the company to ultimately filing for bankruptcy. The settlement set major precedent as the first of it’s kind in our American legal system.