October 3, 2007 —
You may not have heard of Altria, but you likely know what it used to be called—Philip Morris, the largest cigarette maker in the world. Altria also owns Kraft, one of the largest foodmakers in the world, as well as Nabisco. According to many activists, Altria is among the worst corporate offenders in a number of areas. For years, the company refused to admit that cigarette smoking is addictive, has not fully disclosed its political contributions, and has broadened its marketing into developing countries, often with devastating results.
When Philip Morris changed its name to Altria, many people felt the move was a cynical way of distancing itself from its negative image as a cigarette maker—without changing its marketing or broader corporate tactics. Numerous lawsuits against Philip Morris have led to some change, but after years of negative public relations, the company remains focused on delivering a strong return for investors, regardless of issues related to health and safety.
The company has a tremendous amount of political influence and it uses it to protect its bottom line, often to the detriment of consumers. It often uses genetically modified foods in its Kraft and Nabisco brands, which many farmers and consumers believe is unhealthy. Additionally, activist groups have charged that Altria enters a market by introducing its food products. Once it has entrenched itself, it then markets its cigarettes.
The Multinational Monitor named Altria one of the 10 worst corporations of 2006. Altria does not participate in the U.N. Global Compact, which is intended to promote corporation responsibility. The company was not rated in the Corporate Equality Index rating (a “report card” on gay and lesbian equality among American companies) because it does not disclose information to the Human Rights Campaign’s report.