Most famous companies claim to have origin stories that are awe-inspiring and marvelous. But sometimes, the truth is a lot darker than what they would like us to know. From scandals and frauds to strange deals gone wrong, some of these companies have astonishing skeletons in their closets. Now, if you are someone who enjoys digging into such dirt, you’ve come to the right place! So, here is a list of ten world-famous companies with disturbing backstories.
1. Chiquita Brands International
In the 1990s, Chiquita Brands International funded the Colombian terrorist organization, AUC, which was responsible for the murder of many Colombians and Americans. During this time, Chiquita made more than 100 payments to this organization totaling about $1.7 million. In 2007, it pleaded guilty to similar charges filed by the US Justice Department and paid a fine of $25 million.
Chiquita Brands International is the largest distributor of bananas in the US. From 1997 to 2004, Chiquita is said to have made about 100 payments to a Colombian terrorist organization called AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia). This organization is responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians in Colombia.
According to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Chiquita had used its Colombian subsidiary Banadex to make several payments to the AUC, totaling $1.7 million. Chiquita was also accused of having met with Carlos Casta, the then leader of the organization, before making these payments.
In its defense, the company claimed that these payments were made only because AUC had threatened its employees and operations in the Colombian provinces of Urabá and Santa Marta. Nevertheless, in 2007, they agreed to pay a fine of $25 million in five annual installments. (1, 2)
2. Wells Fargo
In 2016, Wells Fargo, America’s fourth-largest banking corporation, found itself embroiled in a major fraud case. This was because its employees had created millions of fake accounts in the names of their actual customers, without their knowledge or consent. To conceal this, the bank also forged signatures and prevented its employees from contacting customers for routine surveys.
In 2016, the US witnessed one of the worst cases of bank fraud in its history. Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest banking corporation in the country, was accused of illegally using its customers’ personal information to create fake accounts.
Thousands of employees in the bank were said to have contributed to this scandal, having created these accounts to meet the bank’s impossible sales quotas.
As soon as the fraud became public, Wells Fargo was hit with a torrent of lawsuits that held it accountable for tolerating its employees’ fraudulent conduct. According to the US Justice Department, the bank had also taken several steps to conceal the extent of this fraud.
They were said to have forged thousands of customer signatures and even prevented their employees from contacting their clients for routine surveys. In 2020, the bank agreed to pay a $3 billion fine to settle the civil and criminal lawsuits filed against it. (1, 2)
The chemical manufacturing giant, DuPont, is well-known for its non-stick polymer Teflon. In 2001, the company was accused of poisoning residents near its West Virginia plant due to a leak of Teflon into local water bodies. The lawsuit also claimed that the company was aware of the product being linked to diseases such as testicular and kidney cancers but neglected to inform the authorities.
In 2001, Americans came face to face with the dark sides of Teflon, a polymer used to coat non-stick cookware. The manufacturer of this polymer, DuPont, had encountered a leak at its West Virginia plant that poisoned many local residents.
In this leak, the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) used to make Teflon had contaminated local water supplies and caused many people to develop testicular and kidney cancers.
As expected, the company was soon hit with thousands of class-action lawsuits on this matter. Amid these lawsuits, DuPont was also accused of having prior knowledge about PFOAs causing cancer and neglecting to inform the authorities.
However, the company refused to accept any wrongdoing on its part, claiming that it hadn’t used PFOAs at their West Virginia plant for at least a decade. Nevertheless, in 2017, DuPont and another company called Chemours Co decided to settle all such lawsuits against them with a sum of $671 million. (1, 2)
In 2021, Facebook‘s algorithm was revealed to be intentionally bombarding its users with misinformation and conspiracy theories. Facebook had found proof of this in 2019 when a researcher created a fake account that expressed interests in conservative politics and Christianity. This account was then aggressively bombarded with suggestions to join various QAnon pages hosted on the website.
Facebook has recently come under some serious fire for its role in the spread of misinformation around the world. In 2021, an employee-turned-whistleblower shed some light on how Facebook intentionally bombarded its users with conspiracy theories.
According to these documents, accounts that express interest in things like Christianity, President Donald Trump, or conservative politics were being targeted with ads for QAnon pages hosted on the website. It was also revealed that Facebook was aware of this since at least 2019 when a researcher hired by them had created a fake account to experiment with the website’s algorithm.
Apart from the US, countries like India had also witnessed a sharp increase in misinformation and violence through Facebook products like WhatsApp. The whistle-blower documents also showed that Instagram, another popular app owned by Facebook, was a major reason for the rising mental health issues among teenagers. (1, 2)
5. The East India Company
The East India Company was a British trading company notorious for plundering and subjugating vast areas of South Asia. In the 1700s, the EIC waged and won many wars in countries like India, effectively establishing themselves as the rulers of the conquered lands. The company also ransacked and looted numerous artifacts from these lands, many of which still remain in Britain.
The East India Company was a private company chartered into existence on December 31, 1600, by Queen Elizabeth I. Soon, it was focusing its interests on exporting silk, tea, cotton, and spices from South Asia. They even set up trade outposts in what would later become the Indian cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai.
By the 19th century, they had waged numerous wars and conquered a sizable territory in South Asia, often to the resentment of the local populace. With Christian missionaries, too, being allowed into these territories, the tensions between EIC and the people continued to grow.
In 1857, with the sepoy mutiny breaking out, the EIC witnessed the first real sign of the Indian freedom struggle. Afterward, in 1873, with the East India Stock-Redemption Act, the company was officially dissolved. Nevertheless, they were still successful in looting resources and treasures from various South Asian territories that eventually led to their great poverty. (1, 2)