If you had to pick one company in America as the ultimate corporate villain on issues that affect ordinary citizens, some say you might be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than ExxonMobil. At a time when most folks are mad as hornets over soaring gasoline prices, ExxonMobil is making money hand over fist and is doing so at an increasing rate. In fact, this giant corporation is actually making more money than any other oil company in the world. As a result, they are doing quite well financially at a time when ordinary folks are really suffering from a fiscal or economic perspective. While the top officers and some of the ExxonMobil stockholders have to be very happy over the current state of affairs, just about everyone else these days is mighty upset with this powerful company. Not all of the shareholders are pleased, however, because of other factors, which will be discussed below.
There are a number of reasons for folks to be unhappy with the giant oil company – the first obviously being the outrageous cost of gasoline, as well as being the pay packages and perks for top company officials, the utter disregard the company has for the court system, and the company’s position on global warming. In fact, environmentalists have a legitimate right to be upset with ExxonMobil for a variety of reasons:
• the company’s willingness to spend millions of dollars to refute the significance or even the existence of global warming, and the role of energy companies in exacerbating it;
• its extraordinary lobbying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration; and
• its continuing refusal to make good on its full compensation payments to the victims of the 1988 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska.
Watchdogs of good corporate governance have been raising eyebrows for years at the compensation collected by ExxonMobil’s top officers. Lee Raymond, its recently retired CEO, has been a particular object of public scrutiny for some time. Last November, Raymond testified before Congress that America’s soaring gasoline prices were caused by “global supply and demand” and promised that ExxonMobil was itself feeling the pain being felt by consumers. You may remember when Raymond said during the hearing: “We’re all in this together.” That’s what he told members of Congress and at the time most of us assumed he was referring to U.S. citizens and not just to their political friends. It should be noted that the statement was made before it became known that ExxonMobil had made a record-breaking $36 billion in profits in 2005, a 40 per cent increase over the previous year.
ExxonMobil has repeatedly shown that it is very much on the wrong side of environmental issues. Eric Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental lobbying group, made this observation:
ExxonMobil has gone out of its way time and again to distinguish itself from its competitors as the most anti-environmental oil company.
I understand that ExxonMobil has financed about 40 organizations dedicated to derailing the efforts to slow down global warming, starting in the late 1980s. Mr. Raymond himself has twice served as chairman of the climate change-denying group, Global Climate Coalition. Even the federal government – in spite of the fact that the Bush Administration has denied that global warming is even a serious problem – has found evidence that ExxonMobil has contributed directly to the increased cost of energy. Interestingly, the Government Accountability Office recently found that Exxon’s 1999 merger with Mobil alone added four to five cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline.
One way to figure out how good or bad the folks are who run a large corporation is to simply to look and see how they treat their own employees. ExxonMobil is now under attack by lawmakers and shareholders as a result of the company’s failure to cover a $3.9 billion shortfall in its pension fund. When companies like this are providing their CEO’s with tremendous benefits and all sorts of perks, it is tragic that they would refuse to fund pension plans properly for their own employees. Having been on the opposite side of the table with this giant oil company in a few lawsuits, I am not at all surprised. Incidentally, they currently owe the State of Alabama about $4 billion in as clear a case of corporate fraud as you will ever see and the company still refuses to pay!
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