Monsanto's settlement exposes how the government treats whistleblowers and corporate crime differently with little regard for the public interest.
Earlier this year, Monsanto was found guilty by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of “cooking the books” after a whistleblower revealed that they had doctored their earnings in connection with its best-selling Roundup (glyphosphate) product. Instead of suffering any real penalties that would produce meaningful change, Monsanto was slapped with an $80- million fine that was easily paid with minor consequences by the agrochemical and GM seed giant. According to the terms of the settlement, Monsanto was not found guilty of any wrong-doing despite the fact that they were fined for what was, in fact, wrong-doing.
The whistleblower, who remains anonymous, will receive an impressive $22- million reward from the SEC, the second highest reward ever issued by the commission. The SEC views its payments to whistleblowers as a major factor as to whether a whistleblower will ultimately decide to come forward. With the promise of money serving as the only means to get massive companies like Monsanto before a court, the likelihood that independent and third-party investigators being able to do the same for Monsanto’s other crimes becomes increasingly improbable.
This isn’t the first time Monsanto has been fined. In 2010, the EPA fined Monsanto $2.5 million, the largest fine ever levied under a US pesticides law. In this case, Monsanto had been selling GM cotton seeds to Texas counties where they were explicitly banned by intentionally mislabeling the seeds as being non-GM. Monsanto was fined in 2005 by the Justice Department for bribing Indonesian officials to approve GM seeds. In 1996, the Attorney General of New York fined them for false advertising of Roundup, also known as glyphosate. The year prior, they paid $41.1 million to a Texas Waste Management company for hazardous waste concerns. Monsanto was also named in a $180-million lawsuit for exposing Vietnam War veterans to Agent Orange, a Monsanto herbicide used in the war that is highly toxic.
What have all of these fines ultimately accomplished? Clearly, there are incredibly ineffective and this is clearly intentional. Fines produce the perception among the public that the issue was solved and the company was punished. They serve only to lessen public outcry and to line the pocketbooks of government agencies, who do nothing to regulate corporate wrong-doing once the fine is paid in full.
The ineffectiveness of fines can also be seen in the banking industry. Wells Fargo recently defrauded millions of its customers, but will walk away largely unscathed as the $185-million fine received is small change for one of the nation’s largest banks. Has this fine or past ones done anything to rein in criminal banking behavior? No, because that’s not what they are designed to do. The government is more interested in protecting corporations than it’s citizens health due to the “revolving door” policy, where corporate officials are offered high-ranking government positions and government officials are offered high-paying corporate positions.
The whistleblower in the latest legal case for Monsanto also shows what’s wrong with how the government treats whistleblowers. The SEC offers millions of dollars to corporate insiders who report on shady practices involving stocks and other market issues. They have awarded more than $100 million to whistleblowers since 2011. However, whistleblowers who come forward about government wrong-doing face years in prison, death threats, and other extremely negative consequences. No rewards are offered for whistleblowers speaking out in defense of public interest. They are only offered for those seeking to expose financial wrongdoing, further illustrating that the government could care less about how corporate crime affects public health or well-being.
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