These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil

Khalid Elhassan - June 7, 2021

Wherever profits and self-interest are at stake, there are people willing to do whatever it takes to pursue them, even if whatever it takes is evil. Take the businessmen who literally ground up the bones of dead soldiers to sell as fertilizer. Or the bureaucrats who screwed up the testing of a defective weapon, then downplayed its defects for years while the servicemen stuck using it paid with their lives. Following are thirty things about those and other evil things done by big corporations and bureaucracies.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant. Lonely Planet

30. Corporate Greed Caused One of Modern History’s Worst Industrial Accidents

December 2, 1984, began like most days at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. That night, however, the plant leaked about forty tons of a highly poisonous gas called methyl isocyanate (MIC), along with other toxic gasses. It was one of history’s worst industrial accidents. The plant was located in a densely-populated area, surrounded by shanty towns. Over 600,000 people suffered from exposure to the lethal cloud. Thousands perished, and thousands more suffered permanent disabilities or were otherwise seriously injured.

It came to be known as the Bhopal Disaster. What took the catastrophe from the realm of industrial accident to one of sheer corporate evil was the callousness exhibited by Union Carbide before, during, and after the event. As seen below, the plant had a history of poor safety practices and near misses. The alarm was raised for years but was ignored. Union Carbide had even turned down a request from local management for protective measures that would have averted the leak because it deemed them too expensive.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
A labor union protest in India against Union Carbide. The Indian Express

29. A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant was built in 1969 to produce carbaryl, a pesticide that is sold under the brand name Sevin, and for which methyl isocyanate (MIC) was a key component. MIC is a highly toxic and irritating material and is extremely hazardous to humans. Other manufacturers eventually switched to other processes for producing carbaryl that did not require the use of the highly dangerous MIC. Not so Union Carbide, which stuck with MIC at its Bhopal plant because it was cheaper.

To save money, Union Carbide also cut corners in the maintenance of the MIC storage tanks and pipes at the Bhopal plant. Over the years, there were numerous leaks in which dozens of workers were killed or injured. By early December 1984, the plant was a disaster waiting to happen. One of three MIC storage tanks was out of commission, pipes and valves were corroded, most safety systems were out of order, and special vents for scrubbing poison gasses did not work.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Rajkumar Keswani. News Bust

28. The Cassandra Who Spent Years Warning About Catastrophe, and the Evil Corporate Callousness That Turned Down Requests for Improved Safety Measures

In 1981, Indian journalist Rajkumar Keswani began to look into the safety protocols and procedures at Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant after a friend died there in an industrial accident. With the help of whistle blowers, he examined that and earlier mishaps and discovered that things were even worse than they looked. There had been repeated screw-ups in which only dumb luck averted catastrophe. In one incident, a gas leak forced thousands of nearby residents to flee their homes in fear. In an internal telex exchange, Union Carbide’s Indian manager sought better pipe coating from the parent company in the US. In one of the more evil replies in corporate history, he was told that it would be too expensive.

After a nine-month investigation, Keswani published the first of a series of newspaper articles that ran from 1982 to 1984. In them, he detailed dismal safety standards at the plant and raised the alarm about a potential catastrophe. With headlines such as “Save Please, Save this City“; “Bhopal Sitting on the Brink of a Volcano“; and “If You Don’t Understand, You All Shall be Wiped Out“, Keswani’s articles left little doubt about the seriousness of the situation. Unfortunately, like a modern Cassandra, his warnings were ignored. Then, on the night of December 2, 1984, the disaster he had spent years warning about struck.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Rusting remains of the Bhopal plant. Pinterest

27. Union Carbide Injured, Permanently Disabled, and Killed Hundreds of Thousands, Then Walked Away With a Chump Change Payout

At around 11 PM, December 2, 1984, workers at Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant noticed that pressure inside one of the MIC tanks had increased from the normal 2 psi to 10 psi. Half an hour later, the effects of leaking gas were detected. At 11:45, a leaking pipe was spotted. In the meantime, the pressure in the MIC tank kept rising. By 12:40 AM, it had reached 55 psi and began venting the toxic gas into the atmosphere. Within two hours, over 40 tons of MIC had been released and were blown into Bhopal.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Victims of the Bhopal Disaster in 2006, demanding the extradition of Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s CEO in 1984, to prosecute for the company’s evil actions. Wikimedia

The methyl isocyanate stayed low to the ground, burned the eyes of victims, made them nauseous, and killed many. Evil corporate callousness and cost-cutting resulted in about 600,000 people harmed by MIC. 8000 perished within two weeks, and another 8000 died later. About 40,000 suffered serious injuries, and 4000 were permanently disabled. In 1989, Union Carbide paid the equivalent of U$875 million in 2021 dollars to settle litigation. It was less than U$1500 per victim, or less than $15,000 for each of those seriously injured, permanently disabled, or killed.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
A Coca-Cola ad from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Reddit

26. A Popular Drink’s Origins in the Evil Third Reich During WWII

Fanta is one of Coca-Cola’s most popular products, sold in 188 countries with more than 70 flavors. A lesser-known fact is that it was first concocted and manufactured in the evil days of Nazi Germany during World War II. Its story started in the years leading up to the war, when Coca-Cola’s greatest international success was its German branch, Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH). Germans loved Coke, and consumed it at such a rate that record sales were set year after year in the Third Reich.

The company’s German branch flourished under American-born director Ray Powers, and continued to flourish under his successor, Max Keith, after Powers died in a car accident in 1938. By the time WWII broke out in 1939, the soft drink giant had 43 bottling plants and over 600 local distributors. The war disrupted that love affair between Germans and Coke. Keith communicated with the parent company that he would try to keep operations running in Germany for as long as he could.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Max Keith. Alchetron

25. Coca-Cola’s German Branch Came Up With Fanta as an Improvisation

Max Keith’s efforts to keep up production in Germany during WWII hit a snag: some key ingredients for producing Coca-Cola syrup could only be obtained from overseas. That was a problem because Germany was cut off from overseas trade by the British Royal Navy. No Coca-Cola syrup meant no Coca-Cola, so production ground to a halt at the company’s bottling plants. The halt did not last long, as Coca-Cola Deutschland cast about for an alternative soft drink, using readily available domestic ingredients.

After some trial and error, they created a new soda from the odds and ends left over from other food industries, such as apple fiber from cider presses, and whey, a cheese byproduct. For sweetener, the company initially used saccharin, then secured the right to use 3.5 percent beet sugar in 1941. While the standard Fanta today is an orange drink, there was no standard flavor during WWII: the company used whichever fruits happened to be available at the time.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Fanta was popular in WWII Germany. Aventuras na Historia

24. Even Evil Nazis Enjoyed a Soft Drink

Fanta got its name when Max Keith brainstormed with subordinates for a catchy name. Keith urged his employees to use their imaginations (fantasie in German), and one of them piped up with “Fanta! Fanta proved popular with Germans during the war – even evil Nazis enjoy a soft drink. Over three million cases were sold in 1943, for example – enough to keep the company’s plants operational and its employees busy. However, contra the myth that Coca-Cola directed operations during the war, the parent company’s executives in Atlanta had lost contact with Coca-Cola Deutschland.

Still, although HQ neither controlled nor directed Keith during the war, his actions safeguarded the parent company’s interests in Germany. After the war, an investigation into Keith’s unsupervised actions during the conflict concluded that he had not been a Nazi. Despite pressure to join the party, he refused. An honorable man, he refrained from taking over the company’s operations for his own profits, when he easily could have. Instead, he kept meticulous accounts, and turned the profits, as well as the new drink, Fanta, over to Coca-Cola after the war.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Kodak ran patriotic ads like this one during WWII, even as its subsidiaries collaborated with the Nazis. Pinterest

23. A Film Giant’s Collaboration With the Third Reich

Kodak was a corporate giant and the world’s leading film company throughout much of the twentieth century. Then failure to keep abreast of digital camera technology doomed it to oblivion. What few knew for decades after the end of WWII was one of the company’s more evil episodes: it had collaborated with Nazi Germany and traded with it even after America had entered the war. Those ties were revealed in the early 2000s when evidence recovered from the US National Archives detailed the extent of Kodak’s collaboration with the Third Reich.

It was conducted through the company’s branches in neutral Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. All of them were directly controlled by Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, NY, and all of them did business with Germany. Acting through its branches in neutral European countries, the company bought supplies from Germany, and paid for them with hard currency that the Nazis desperately needed. That, however, was at the mild end of things. Kodak also had a close relationship with Hitler’s personal economic adviser, and through him, the company continued to exercise a measure of control over its German branch, even during the war.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
A Kodak WWII ad. Pinterest

22. Kodak’s European Branches Profited Greatly from Evil Practices Like Using Slave Labor and Collaborating With the Nazis During WWII

During WWII, the US embassy in London noted that Kodak frequently made: “fairly substantial purchases from enemy territory“. The embassy also noted: “[t]hat the idea that he has been helping the enemy seems never to have occurred” to Kodak’s Swiss branch manager when he made substantial purchases from Germany. An American official got in touch with the Swiss manager, and reported in late 1943: “I pointed out to him that our sole interest is to shut off every source of possible benefit to our enemies, regardless of what American commercial interests might suffer“.

As to Kodak’s German branch, it expanded operations during the war and used slave workers to produce detonators, triggers, and other military hardware. After the war, Kodak resumed control over its German branch, and untroubled by the evil methods by which they had been generated, gladly absorbed the profits made during the conflict. Things had also gone great for Kodak’s branch in occupied France. It made so much money during the war that it was able to invest its profits into purchasing real estate, coal mines, and rest houses for the staff. As with its German subsidiary, Kodak resumed control of its French branch and wartime profits after that country was liberated.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
‘Scotland Forever!’ by Elizabeth Thompson, 1881, depicting the charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo. Visual Oblivion

21. The Businessmen Who Sold the Bones of Soldiers Killed in Battle as Fertilizer

In 1815, the Battle of Waterloo ended decades of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and established the broad outlines of European geopolitics for nearly a century. Today, we take for granted the notion of honoring those killed in the war. It can be seen in the solemnity surrounding Unknown Soldier memorials around the world, or the reverence and care attendant upon the upkeep of war cemeteries. To disrespect the honored fallen strikes us as not just unseemly, but as outright evil. It was not always so.

Back in the days of Waterloo, soldiers killed in action were usually stripped of valuables. Those “valuables” included their very corpses. Waterloo’s dead had their teeth pulled out, to get fashioned into dentures. Waterloo was such a bonanza for Britain’s denture industry, that sets made of human teeth were known as “Waterloo dentures” for years afterward. Their bones – like the bones of those killed in other Napoleonic battles such as Austerlitz and Leipzig – were shipped to Britain and ground into fertilizer. As a correspondent wrote in The Observer in 1822: “the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread“.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
An original Herbie used by Disney in a film. Wikimedia

20. The World’s Biggest Car Manufacturer and its Nazi Origins

In 2016, The Volkswagen Group took the lead from Toyota Motor Company as the world’s biggest car manufacturer. It produced more than 6 million automobiles and employed 626,000 people worldwide. In the fiscal year 2020, even with a global pandemic raging, the company delivered 9.3 million cars to customers worldwide – a dip from the 11 million cars delivered in 2019, before the pandemic hit. Sales in 2019 amounted to about U$ 307 billion, with about U$17 billion in after-tax earnings.

The company, whose iconic and cute VW Beetle became the star of Disney’s Herbie the Love Bug movie franchise, came a long way from its origins. The VW Beetle owes its creation to two men: engineer Ferdinand Porsche, and one of history’s most evil figures: Adolf Hitler. In the 1930s, Germany’s automobile industry was geared towards luxury cars that most Germans could not afford. There was no domestic equivalent of the mass-produced and low-priced Ford Model-T, so average Germans made do with motorcycles for personal transport, or did without. Most did without, and only 2 percent of Germans owned a car.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Ferdinand Porsche demonstrating a Volkswagen to Hitler in 1938. Flickr

19. Birth of a People’s Car

The low rate of German car ownership made the country a huge potential market for an affordable automobile, and many sought to take the lead by launching “people’s car” projects (volks wagen in German). One such was Ferdinand Porsche, a famous racecar and luxury automobile designer, who sought to interest manufacturers in his small and affordable family car concept. In 1933, Porsche built a model, a forerunner of the VW Beetle, which he named the Volksauto. It had a torsion suspension and a beetle shape, with a rounded front hood for better aerodynamics to compensate in part for a small air-cooled rear engine.

When the Nazis came into power, Hitler jumped on the “people’s car” bandwagon, and in February, 1933, just weeks after becoming Reich Chancellor, he announced plans for a “people’s motorization”. In 1934, the Fuhrer issued a decree to produce a basic car that could transport two adults and three children at 62 mph, at the cost of only 990 Reichsmarks – about U$ 400 in the 1930s. Hitler fell in love with Porsche’s design, but Germany’s auto industry could not produce a car for that price in its existing plants. So Hitler ordered up a state-owned factory to produce the Volkswagen.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
The evolution of VW’s logo, from its original winged swastika theme to today. Madisyn Drum

18. Ford Turned Down the Opportunity to Own Volkswagen

The People’s Car, despite its evil sponsor, was not evil in itself. It was to be paid for through a savings plan that required buyers to set aside 5 Reischmarks a week. Back then, the average weekly income was about 32 RM, so the new car was within most Germans’ reach. Construction of the new factory began in May of 1938 in a new town purpose-built for Volkswagen workers, Wolfsburg – Germany’s richest city today, with a GDP per capita of about USD $130,000 because of its thriving auto industry.

However, only a few Volkswagens were built when WWII began in 1939, and the factory retooled from consumer cars to military manufacture. Civilian production resumed after the war, and the company was offered to American, British, and French car manufacturers, all of whom rejected it. Those who turned it down included Ford, who declined even though it was offered free of charge. By 1946, VW had gotten production up to about 1000 cars a month, and by 1948, it had become an icon of West Germany’s economic revival, and began its rise to global automotive dominance.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Russell Brand at GQ Magazine’s 2013 Men of the Year awards ceremony, sponsored by Hugo Boss. YouTube

17. When Russell Brand Got Kicked Out of an Awards Ceremony for Cracking Jokes About This Fashion Brand’s Nazi Ties

In 2013, British comedian Russell Brand was kicked out of a GQ Magazine’s Men of the Year Awards black-tie affair: he cracked jokes about the event’s sponsor, Hugo Boss, and its Nazi ties. As Brand put it: “If anyone knows a bit about history and fashion, you know it was Hugo Boss, who made uniforms for the Nazis. …But they looked [effing] fantastic, let’s face it, while they were killing people on the basis of their religion and sexuality“.

Unsurprisingly, Hugo Boss’ executives were not thrilled that all they got for the £250,000 spent to sponsor the event was another dose of bad publicity about their company’s past. Whether Russell Brand’s humor was in good taste or bad, he was not wrong about the fashion designer’s Nazi ties. Today, Hugo Boss is a global luxury fashion brand, famous for its flashy ties and classic suits, with about 1100 company-owned stores worldwide as of 2021. It would not have happened without a helping hand from history’s most evil regime.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Snazzy outfits made by Hugo Boss for the Nazis. Pinterest

16. The Nazis Gave Hugo Boss His Big Break

There was a time when it seemed that no yuppie was cool unless his wardrobe contained Hugo Boss shirts, suits, socks, sunglasses, cologne, and man-thongs. Less cool was the history of the company’s founder, fashion designer Hugo Ferdinand Boss (1885 – 1948). He was an enthusiastic Nazi who devoted his talents to making Hitler’s evil goons look as snazzy as possible. He established a textile factory as a family-run business in 1923, and one of his early big contracts was to supply uniforms to the Nazi party’s SA storm troopers, or Brown Shirts.

He eventually joined the party, and when the Nazis took power in 1933 Boss, as an active party member and enthusiastic supporter, was on the inside track when the new regime awarded clothing contracts. Before long, Hugo Boss’ production orders expanded from Brown Shirts’ uniforms to include the SS’ black outfits, and the black-and-brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth. Production continued and expanded during WWII. By then, Hugo Boss had contracts to outfit the SS, SA, Hitler Youth, German rail workers, postal employees, as well as the German army, navy, and air force.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Hugo Ferdinand Boss. Brand Info

15. Beautiful Outfits, Manufactured in Horrifically Evil Conditions

As WWII raged, Hugo Boss used hundreds of slave workers, mostly from Poland and France, to meet the increased wartime production demands. The slave laborers’ working conditions were dreadful. They were insufficiently fed, received inadequate medical care, and lived in unsanitary barracks infested with lice and fleas. During air raids, they were not allowed into shelters but had to remain in the factory. Those who attempted to flee were sent to even more dreadful places if captured, such as Auschwitz.

In the post-war de-Nazification, Hugo Ferdinand Boss was heavily fined, stripped of his voting rights, and prohibited from running a business. He appealed and managed to reduce the penalties, but the business ban was not lifted. So he was forced to transfer ownership and management of the company to his son-in-law. Ever since, Hugo Boss has, understandably, not been keen to celebrate its founder or discuss its prewar history. In 1999, the company finally agreed to contribute to a fund to compensate its former slave workers.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Melting glaciers are a huge and growing problem. Earth Policy Institute

14. There Was a Time When Exxon Did Not Think It Was Evil to Brag About Melting Glaciers

If you go through advertisements from back in the day, you will often come across ads that prior generations saw as totally innocuous and non-controversial. Reading those ads in the present and knowing what we know now, it becomes clear that they did not age well. Due to social, political, or technological advances and changes, things that seemed like a good idea and that were perfectly acceptable in one era, can be seen today as silly, ridiculous, or outright evil and offensive.

Take for example a 1962 ad by Humble Oil & Refining Company – which eventually rebranded as Exxon – for its Enco brand gasoline. Today, global warming is taken seriously by most people and the overwhelming majority of scientists, both in America and around the world. It was not always so. In the 1960s, Humble Oil – contra its name – bragged about its size and technical efficiency by boasting that it could melt millions of tons of glaciers every single day of the year.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Humble Oil’s glaciers melting ad. Bill Moyers

13. When it was Cool to Boast About the Ability to Melt Millions of Tons of Glaciers a Day

As Humble Oil’s 1962 glaciers ad put it: “EACH DAY HUMBLE SUPPLIES ENOUGH ENERGY TO MELT 7 MILLION TONS OF GLACIER! This giant glacier has remained unmelted for centuries. Yet, the petroleum energy Humble supplies — if converted into heat — could melt it at the rate of 80 tons each second! To meet the nation’s growing needs for energy, Humble has supplied science to nature’s resources to become America’s Leading Energy Company. Working wonders with oil through research, Humble provides energy in many forms — to help heat our homes, power our transportation, and to furnish industry with a great variety of versatile chemicals. Stop at a Humble station for new Enco Extra gasoline, and see why the “Happy Motoring” Sign is the World’s First Choice!

Humble Oil’s non humble boast that it produced enough energy to melt seven million tons of glaciers every day aged badly. A few decades later on down the road, scientists sounded the alarm about the dangers of global warming – a growing menace caused in large part by fossil fuels such as those produced by Humble Oil. Back in 1962, the ad’s copywriters thought they had come up with a clever idea, and were blissfully unaware of that what the future would bring. They certainly had not anticipated that melting glaciers would become major symbols of the risks of global warming, and that to brag about doing so would come across as cartoonishly evil.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Logo on the former Associated Press Building in New York City. Wikimedia

12. When the Associated Press Self-Censored to Appease the Nazis

In May 1846, five New York City newspapers pooled their resources to share the costs of covering the Mexican-American War. The resultant cooperative, the Associated Press (AP), proved a success, and grew over the years as other media outlets joined. Today, AP is owned by its member newspapers and TV and radio stations, who contribute stories to its pool and use material written by its staff journalists. AP has generally been a paragon of good journalism and earned 54 Pulitzer Prizes since the award was established in 1917. However, a significant deviation from good journalism occurred during the Third Reich years, when AP collaborated with Nazi authorities to facilitate its work in Germany.

When Hitler & Co. took power in 1933, they pressured international news organizations to conform to Nazi standards. One such standard was the Editor’s Law, enacted by the new regime to limit what newspapers could publish. It also restricted the profession of journalism to Aryans, and mandated that Jews be removed from newsrooms. Foreign journalists in Germany thus had to collect and transmit news from a country whose government wanted nothing to do with independent and objective journalism. Most international news organizations refused to comply with such conditions, and withdrew from Germany rather than sacrifice their journalistic integrity and common decency. AP was not among them.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Facial expressions of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, before and immediately after discovering that the press photographer snapping his photos was Jewish. Reddit

11. In a Radical Departure From its Usual Journalistic Integrity, AP Fired its Jewish Staff to Appease Hitler’s Government

The Associated Press accepted the conditions imposed by the Third Reich to operate in Germany. To placate the authorities, it fired all of its local Jewish staff. It also self-censored and adjusted its reports in order to keep the Nazis sweet. For example, it downplayed the daily discrimination endured by Jews, refused to publish images that depicted such discrimination. It worked. By 1935, most contemporary international news organizations, such as Wide World Photos and Keystone, had been kicked out of Germany by the Nazis. AP was one of the few still allowed to operate in the country.

After America joined the war in 1941, AP’s Berlin office was closed, and its American staffers were arrested and interned, before they were swapped in a prisoner exchange. However, in order to continue to obtain photographs from Nazi-occupied Europe, AP made arrangements with news agencies in neutral countries to receive photos for the Third Reich. In exchange, they furnished the Germans with AP photos. The AP images provided to Germany appeared in evil Nazi propaganda, some were altered, and nearly all their captions were changed to conform to the official Nazi viewpoint.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
A Siemens truck being used as a Nazi public address vehicle in a 1932 election campaign. Bundesarchiv Bild

10. Europe’s Biggest Industrial Giant Once Used Hundreds of Thousands of Slave Workers

Siemens AG is Europe’s biggest industrial manufacturer. It employs about 375,000 people worldwide, and in 2019, the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic threw the global economy for a loop, it generated more than USD $105 billion in revenues. Its factories churn out a wide range of products in the fields of electronics, electrical engineering, energy, medical goods, drives, fire safety, and industrial plant materials. In the Nazi era, it was Germany’s biggest industrial conglomerate, and was not above evil practices like the use of slave laborers by the hundreds of thousands.

Siemens, founded in 1847, hit a rough patch after World War I, and things did not get any better during the Great Depression that arrived a decade later. The company was saved by the Nazis. When Hitler & Co. took control of Germany in 1933, Siemens profited as the new regime began to rearm, and the company experienced massive growth from armaments contracts. As the leader of Germany’s electrical industry, Siemens’ revenue increased continuously from 1934 onwards and reached a peak during WWII.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Slave workers in a Siemens factory within Auschwitz concentration camp. Wikimedia

9. Siemens Saw Nothing Evil in Participating in the Nazis’ “Death Through Work” Program

As the Third Reich steadily geared up for war and a rematch to settle German grievances about the results of WWI, demands for weapons, ammunition, and all kinds of war material increased. There was a hitch, however: as German workers were taken from factories and drafted into the military, a labor shortfall began to grow steadily. So German manufacturers like Siemens turned to slave workers. The first pool of forced labor were the native political prisoners in the country’s concentration camps.

The pool of potential slave workers mushroomed when stunning victories and conquests in WWII’s early years brought tens of millions of foreigners under German thumbs. From 1940 onwards, Siemens relied heavily on slave labor from occupied countries, prisoners of war, Jews, Gypsies, and concentration camp inmates. The company saw nothing evil in that. Indeed, Siemens was a chief participant in the Nazis’ “death through work” program, which squeezed labor out of those marked for elimination before they perished. It ran factories inside concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Ravensbruck, Flossenburg, Sachsenhausen, and others.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Contemporary sketch of female Siemens slave workers yoked to pull a giant roller. Holocaust Online

8. Siemens Did Great Under the Nazis and Profited Greatly from the Holocaust

Siemens’ general director, Rudolf Bingel, was a personal friend of Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, and used his connections to ensure that his company did well. Siemens’ evil practices included the exploitation of the Holocaust for profit via the “Aryanization Program”. The program expropriated Jewish businesses and properties, then resold them at bargain-basement prices to approved companies such as Siemens. As to Siemens’ slave workers, they toiled in horrific conditions. For example, the company used female slave workers at Ravensbruck to make electrical components for V-1 and V-2 rockets. They were subjected to all types of exploitation, with the ever-present threat of death if they balked.

Siemens’ construction operations also used female slave workers, and yoked them in teams like draft animals to pull giant rollers to pave the streets. After the war, the company did its best to forget that history, but reminders cropped up from time to time. In 2001, in a jaw-dropping display of obliviousness, Bosch Siemen Hausgeraete, the company’s consumer products arm, filed applications with the US Patents & Trademark Office for the name Zyklon. The same as in Zyklon B, the toxic chemical used in the Holocaust’s gas chambers. The company wanted to use the Zyklon name in a range of household products, including gas ovens. After a public outcry, Siemens withdrew the trademark applications.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Mark 14 Torpedo. YouTube

7. The Officials Who Failed to Test a Defective Weapon, Then Blamed Servicemen for its Failures

The next evil act was not done by a private company, but by officials of a government bureaucracy. They first screwed up when they failed to adequately test a vital weapon enough to make sure it worked as advertised before it was issued to the uniformed end users. When war broke out and the weapon was put to use, reports poured in about serious defects. The bureaucrats ignored or downplayed them. They even blamed the weapon’s failures on human error, rather than on the obvious defects they would have detected if they had tested like they should have done in the first place.

The weapon in question was the Mark 14 Torpedo, used by American submarines when the country joined WWII in 1941. Designed in 1931, it differed from earlier torpedoes that detonated on impact with a target’s hull. Instead, the Mark 14 used an innovative magnetic detonator that was supposed to set off the torpedo’s explosive charge directly beneath the enemy ship’s keel – an explosion that would break the ship’s back. It meant that just one Mark 14 could sink any targeted ship, regardless of its size. That was a vast improvement over earlier torpedoes, which usually required multiple torpedo hits to hole an enemy’s hull in various spots to sink it.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
The magnetic exploder used in Mark 14 torpedoes failing to explode beneath a target ship in a 1926 test. Naval History and Heritage Command

6. Torpedoes That Ran Too Deep

The Mark 14 Torpedo’s magnetic detonator was a potentially revolutionary weapon. However, secrecy and frugality led the US Navy to test only two detonators on live torpedo runs. One of them failed to detonate, and the torpedo continued on harmlessly beneath the target ship. Despite a 50% failure rate, the Navy went ahead and approved the weapon for general use. The Mark 14 was put into mass production, and issued to the US submarine fleet as its standard weapon in 1938. That was negligence. What took it from that to sheer evil was how the bureaucrats responded when the consequences of their negligence cropped up.

The torpedo’s flaws became apparent within the first weeks of hostilities. Submarine commanders correctly reported that the Mark 14 often failed to maintain accurate depth to pass within the correct distance beneath an enemy ship’s keel before detonation. The USS Sargo, for example, fired eight Mark 14s at two enemy ships on December 24, 1941, but not a single one went off. Its commander tried his luck with two more ships that hove into view, but again, the torpedoes failed to explode. A few days later, he discovered the torpedoes ran too deep. When the problem persisted with yet another target, the Sargo’s exasperated skipper broke radio silence to question the Mark 14’s reliability. Other submarine skippers voiced similar complaints.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
The USS Tang in 1944, returning to Pearl Harbor after her second patrol. National Medal of Honor Museum

5. Not Only Did The Mark 14 Fail to Destroy Enemy Ships, it Often Destroyed the Submarines that Fired Them

If accurate depth was achieved, the Mark 14’s magnetic detonator still often exploded prematurely or failed to explode at all. The backup detonator – the contact detonator that was supposed to set off the explosive when the torpedo struck a target’s hull – also frequently failed. Even if a Mark 14 struck an enemy’s hull at a perfect angle, with a loud clang that was clearly audible in the firing submarine. Worst of all, the Mark 14 had a tendency to boomerang: it could miss its target, then run in a wide circle, and return to strike the firing submarine.

At least one submarine, the USS Tullibee, was known to have been sunk by its own Mark 14 Torpedo in that manner. The problem persisted in the new and improved Mark 18, which did a circular run and sank the USS Tang, the most successful submarine in the history of the US Navy. At least a few of the dozens of submarines that simply vanished in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean are suspected to have been sunk by their Mark 14 Torpedoes. Especially those that disappeared in areas where there was no active armed enemy presence, and where Japanese archives seized after the war did not report submarine sinkings.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
US Navy Bureau of Ordnance personnel inspecting a Mark 14 Torpedo in 1943. Imgur

4. In One of the Most Evil Acts in the History of American Military Procurement, the US Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance Ignored the Mark 14’s Flaws for Years

The US Navy ignored a detailed report detailing the Mark 14 Torpedo’s flaws, as well as reports from numerous submarine commanders complaining about the weapon. In one incident, a submarine commander fired a dozen torpedoes at a large Japanese whaler, but only managed to cripple it. Then, with the enemy ship dead in the water, he maneuvered his submarine and carefully positioned it so that his torpedoes would have a perfect angle of impact. He fired off nine more Mark 14s, all of which hit, but not a single one detonated.

Despite a flood of such reports, it took the US Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance two years to even acknowledge the possibility that a problem might exist. Then, grudgingly, it conducted tests to find out what, if anything, was wrong. The tests verified what American submariners had complained about for the past two years. Corrective measures and remedial steps to address the Mark 14’s many problems were finally begun – two years later than should have been the case. One could only imagine the congressional hearings if something like that happened today.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Hitler had kind things to say about Henry Ford in Mein Kampf. Times of Israel

3. Hitler’s Favorite American

Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) was a complex man. Not always the good kind of complex, though: downright evil, as a matter of fact, when it came to Jews. On the one hand, for his era, he was relatively progressive in some racial aspects. Ford was one of the few major corporations that actively hired black workers, and did not discriminate against Jewish workers or suppliers. On the other hand, Henry Ford had strong anti-Semitic views. So anti-Semitic that Hitler praised him in Mein Kampf, and awarded him one of Nazi Germany’s highest decorations. It is thus perhaps unsurprising that his company collaborated with the Third Reich during WWII.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Henry Ford on the cover of the January 14th, 1935, issue of Time Magazine. Worth Point

Ford probably had no problem with Jews as individuals or at least no problem with some Jews as individuals. However, he had serious issues when it came to Jews collectively: he believed that Jews were in a conspiracy to take over the world. To warn against that perceived menace, he purchased and published a weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, that had a decidedly anti-Jewish bent. Ford required all of his car dealers to stock his newspaper, and through that and other measures, got its circulation up to 900,000 by 1925, second only to The New York Times.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Henry Ford, left, and his son Edsel. Ford Corporate

2. Only His Death Saved Ford’s Son Edsel from Criminal Prosecution for Trading With the Nazis

Given Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic track record, it is unsurprising that Adolf Hitler admired him greatly. The evil Nazi leader lauded the American industrialist in Mein Kampf, referred to him as “my inspiration”, and kept a photo of him on his desk. In 1938, on Ford’s 75th birthday, he was awarded The Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal that Nazi Germany bestowed upon foreigners. Ford reciprocated the admiration and had no problem doing business with Nazi Germany. When WWII began in 1939, he professed himself neutral, but his and his company’s actions belied that claim.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938. History Channel

For example, before America joined the war, Ford had no problem supplying then-neutral Germany with war materials but declined to supply the equally neutral Britain with aircraft engines. In the early 2000s, evidence was unearthed from newly declassified government documents that demonstrated the Nazi links with Ford Motor Company went well beyond its founder. Among other things, the documents indicate that Henry Ford’s secretary, Ernest Liebold, might have been a Nazi agent who helped fuel his boss’ paranoia about Jews. Indeed, the documents indicate that Ford’s own son and the company’s then-president, Edsel, could have been prosecuted for trading with the Nazi enemy had he not died in 1943.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
Ford factory in Cologne, Germany. Panzerserra

1. Plumbing the Depths of Evil, Ford’s German Branch Used Slave Labor to Manufacture War Materiel For the Nazis

Declassified letters between Edsel Ford and the head of Ford’s French subsidiary in 1942 indicate that Ford knew and approved of the subsidiary’s manufacturing efforts on behalf of the German military. That took place after America had joined the war, and Germany had become an enemy. Declassified documents reveal that the US Department of Justice concluded that there was a basis for a criminal case against Edsel Ford. In addition, Ford’s plants in Germany used slave workers to meet the demands of the German war effort.

These Corporations Committed the Ultimate Evil
A Ford V3000 used by the evil SS Das Reich Division. Panzerserra

That occurred not only after America joined the war and the plants were seized, but also during the interval between the war’s outbreak in September of 1939, and America’s entry into the conflict in December of 1941. During that period, Ford still controlled its German subsidiary, and knew what was going on in its factories. When the US Army liberated Ford’s plants in Nazi Germany, they found emaciated slave laborers behind barbed wires. A US Army investigator’s report, dated September 5th, 1945, accused Ford’s German subsidiary of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism“, with the parent company’s knowledge and consent.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Associated Press – Covering Tyranny, the Associated Press and Nazi Germany: 1933 – 1945

Atlantic, The, December 2nd, 2014 – Bhopal: the World’s Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later

BBC – Hugo Boss Apology For Nazi Past as Book is Published

BBC – Siemens Retreats Over Nazi Name

Encyclopedia Britannica – Volkswagen Group

History Collection – Manmade Disasters

History Collection – 20 Nazi-Inspired Inventions

History Extra, November 1st, 2013 – Where the Pulverized Bones of Soldiers and Horses Who Died at the Battle of Waterloo Sold as Soil Fertilizer?

Holocaust Online – Siemens

Jalopnik – The Real Story Behind the Nazis and Volkswagen

Nation, The, March 8th, 2001 – Kodak’s Nazi Connections

New York Times, December 11th, 1984 – Indian Journalist Offered Warning

History Collection – 10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever

PBS, American Experience – Ford’s Anti-Semitism

Snopes – Did a 1960s Oil Company Ad Boast How Much Glacier It Could Melt?

Snopes – Fanta and the Nazis

Telegraph, The, November 3rd, 2003 – Ford ‘Used Slave Labour’ in Nazi German Plants

Washington Post, November 30th, 1998 – Ford and GM Scrutinized For Alleged Nazi Collaboration

Wikipedia – Bhopal Disaster

Wikipedia – Mark 14 Torpedo

History Collection – Business Pioneers that Had Quite the Disturbing Background

History Collection – 20 Historical Figures Who Changed The World, and Also Committed Monstrous Deeds