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Bad Business Awards

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Companies spend a lot of time and money building their reputation, but just one wrong move (whether malice, misperception or a simple mistake) can bring it crashing down. That’s why every quarter, we’ll be doling out a handful of Bad Business Awards—pointing out all the ways brands have taken a wrong turn or failed to own their sh*t.

No matter how good your products, services or intentions are, nobody’s perfect. And the sooner you recognize that, the sooner you can use it to your advantage. So without further ado...

This Business Sucks

WINNER

Amazon
awardsThe e-commerce giant may promise low prices and fast shipping, but it comes at a huge cost—especially for the employees packing and delivering orders. We encourage you to ask, “Hey Alexa, why does Amazon suck?”
Is there anything Amazon hasn’t done to disappoint its employees? At this point, you’ve probably heard of its abysmal warehouse conditions and mandatory firing quota—and we’re sorry to say that only scratches the surface of Amazon’s dirty, rotten behavior.

In December 2021, an Amazon delivery driver was told she would be fired for returning to base during a tornado warning in Illinois (the same location where a tornado struck an Amazon warehouse and killed six employees after many were told they were not allowed to leave the facility during the emergency).

PR insisted that the supervisor went against stated safety protocols, but the company’s actions give us no reason to believe it. Amazon has previously denied sick leave and had an employee pass away from a stroke on site; employees who witnessed the ambulance carry their deceased coworker away were even told to keep working.

Amazon doesn’t seem to care if employees drop dead on the clock, so it would be in the workers’ best interest to form a union—but that’s never going to happen. It has a long-standing track record of union busting: it’s surveilled employee activism, fired union organizers and diluted the union's vote. According to research from Gallup, 65% of Americans approve of labor unions—yet we’re currently living in a time of the lowest rate of unionized workers in the country’s history. And Amazon is doing next to nothing to change that.

In almost all cases, Amazon has stressed delivery speeds over workers’ quality of life. But don’t let that fool you: it doesn’t give a crap about its customers either. One report, released in November 2021, revealed the company “didn’t have meaningful controls to limit access and sharing of user personal data, including sensitive data, within the company.” It even went so far to say that “within Amazon, user personal data flowed like a river.” The brand has essentially left all customer data up for grabs.

Amazon’s own security team had repeatedly “warned of the risks posed by constantly gobbling up new subsidiaries and folding them into the company’s network,” but Amazon leaders didn’t care. And that's the crux of the issue. Unless we’re talking dollars and cents, Amazon doesn’t think twice. It doesn’t care about its product lines (which are increasingly being poisoned by fake reviews, counterfeit merchandise and poor-quality items); it doesn’t care about its workers; and it sure as heck doesn’t care about you.

If Amazon wants to salvage the mess it’s made, its executives need to make some big moves—starting with letting employees unionize. We suggest the brand launch UnionBusting.Sucks, packing it with resources to help workers make their own informed decisions on the matter. Of course, similar sites could be used to address customer and product issues, too—we’ve got plenty of domains for the e-comm powerhouse to choose from.

1st runner up

Meta
New name, same sketchy behavior. Just because Facebook (a former Bad Business Awards runner up) changed its name, doesn’t mean the brand can erase or change its reputation. In fact, Meta is on a whole other level.
From the moment Meta—the new Facebook conglomerate with big plans to be “the next evolution of social connection” (whatever that means)—was introduced to the world, people had concerns. Not even the name was well received.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t have the best track record, proving time and time again that his platforms need less power and more regulation. Meta and its properties, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, have recently faced a siege of accusations that the social platforms are dangerous to child and teen mental health. This all came about when whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked documents noting “internal research by Meta found that one in three teen girls said using Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies,” but of course there’s a lot more evidence to support these claims.

Despite rebranding, the company hasn’t been able to escape its past—and Facebook continues to be at the core of several issues, including the Rohingya genocide. The same sketchy algorithms that promote fake news have also been used to dangerously spread posts inciting violence against the Rohingya people. There are no checks and balances to what is being posted, who is seeing it or what the consequences of echo chambers can be.

Meta is a brand new entity and, particularly as it’s pressured to sell Instagram and WhatsApp, has a chance for a clean slate. In our biased opinion, it can and should use a site like Meta.Sucks to try to repair the damage it’s done. Because changing identities clearly doesn’t help.

2nd runner up

Spotify
Spotify is home to today’s hottest artists, songs and playlists…but also everyone’s least favorite podcaster. So like several music industry superstars, we’re hitting pause—maybe even eject— on the music streaming platform.
In case you didn’t know, Spotify sucks. The streaming service provider pays artists pennies, steals uncredited ideas from interns and—in the latest scandal—has allowed misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines to spread on the platform.

In the summer of 2021, MMA commentator and uber-popular podcaster Joe Rogan announced an exclusivity deal between him and Spotify to the tune of $100–200 million. Rogan is a titan in the podcasting industry with his top 10 episodes amassing over 245 million views on YouTube alone. He’s notorious as an “equal opportunity” interviewer, giving space to far-right fringe voices like Alex Jones, Jordan Peterson, Milo Yiannopoulos and others.

More recently, he’s become a source for anti-vaccine misinformation. He can often be heard telling people not to get vaccinated, spreading conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic and hosting guests who do the same (or worse). The controversy got so bad that many artists—Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and India Aire—are pulling their music off Spotify until it deals with the Rogan problem. Don’t forget that Rogan also likes to casually drop the N-word.
Stand up guy, no?

Spotify should use either CovidMisinformation.Sucks or (let’s cut to the chase) JoeRogan.Sucks to give space to their official stance, share resources for those who want to learn more from scientific and peer-reviewed sources, and condemn anyone who spreads lies on it platform or elsewhere on the web.

Past Winners

We hate to say it, but there’s more where that came from...

In fact, there’s no shortage of companies behaving badly—and our past winners prove it.
Find out how other brands have screwed up, letting down their employees, customers and communities.

Activision Blizzard | Winner
If Activision Blizzard isn’t careful, it’s going to have more harassment and discrimination lawsuits than game franchises. With new HR initiatives in place, what are the chances its reputation can recover (or should we say respawn)?
Where should we start with Activision Blizzard? Member of the Fortune 500 and S&P 500, this colossal video game holding company is perhaps best known for the Call of Duty (COD) and World of Warcraft franchises; it also owns Diablo, Candy Crush, HearthStone and Overwatch. In other words: you can’t turn on a smart device or gaming console without brushing up against this brand or one of its subsidiaries. It’s unfortunate, to say the least.

Sexism and discrimination have always been hot topics in the video game industry—be it gatekeeping within audience communities or workplace prejudices among developer teams—but Activision Blizzard really takes the cake. The company’s “frat-boy culture” is so bad that it’s been hit with a harassment and discrimination lawsuit by the state of California.

Noteworthy incidents include the reveal of a so-called “Cosby suite” as well as an account of company recruiters asking about a prospective employee’s sexual activity. Activision Blizzard seems to be taking this seriously, as 20 employees (and counting?) have been fired since the news broke. But the company’s overall response to the claims has been far from seamless.

Particularly, feedback from company executives has been more infuriating than input lag during a 1-v-1 Call of Duty: Warzone throwdown. First, they came out saying the accusations were “distorted and untrue” despite there being photographic evidence to the contrary. They then condemned all actions in an internal email...only to turn around and hire a union-busting firm as employees started to mobilize around the issue.

Industry pros—from niche media publications, streamers and professional players to other video game developers—are now waiting on Activision Blizzard and its new executives to follow through on their plans to do better. But apparently the company would rather twiddle its thumbs and try to stall lawsuit progress. Whatever floats (read: sinks) its boat.

We love clipping heads in COD as much as the next person, but Activision Blizzard deserves to be removed from everyone’s computers and devices for this. It’s all fun and games—until it’s not.

The titan of AAA gaming should really think about snatching up ActivisionBlizzard.Sucks before someone else does—say, to highlight the meaningful changes it’s making to counteract what’s happened. But we also wouldn’t mind if a competitor or consumer used it to show the company that its actions have serious reputational (not just monetary) consequences. Who’s game?
Facebook | 1 st Runner Up
It’s been a long time since we’ve clicked the like button for Facebook...or whatever it’s calling itself these days. And with so much misinformation across the social media platform, we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Facebook first landed in the hot seat when it let fake news and political propaganda run wild during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And it’s only gotten worse since then—especially now that a whistleblower has spoken up about how the platform perpetuates misinformation and violence.

In addition, Facebook’s own user data indicates that far-right pages are among the most trafficked on the platform, with conservative radicals like Shawn Hannity, Ben Shapiro and Franklin Graham consistently netting more than their fair share of likes and comments. In a company email revealed by The New York Times, Nick Clegg, VP of global affairs at Facebook, aptly claimed, “Our own tools are helping journos to consolidate the wrong narrative.”

In short, this means Facebook has become the de facto home for dangerous far-right talking points around QAnon conspiracy theories, pro-Donald Trump rhetoric, misinformation about COVID-19 and a spicy side of hate speech. What was once a “hot-or-not platform” for university students is now a fake news fire bomb that burns its users in real time: Facebook refers users to suspect sites over 15% of the time, while authoritative sites receive barely 6% of referrals through the platform.

Facebook has become a forest of fake news—and the consequences are spreading like wildfire. Using FakeNews.Sucks to right past wrongs should be Mark Zuckerberg’s first line of defense (not announcing a new parent brand identity). Hopefully, he takes advantage of this domain before the platform goes up in smoke.
Tesla | 2 nd Runner Up
Tesla may be a clean energy company, but it’s reputation is muddy—and that’s putting it nicely. Apparently CEO Elon Musk doesn’t think standard industry rules apply to him or his brand.
In August 2021, Vice reported that a dedicated Tesla repair shop quoted a customer a whopping $22,500 to replace a battery. Just the price of doing business? Not quite. An independent mechanic ended up fixing the faulty car part for just $5,000.

Anti-consumer practices seem to be baked into the Tesla business model, but are far from being the only problem. For example, upon learning that New Mexico doesn’t allow straight-to-consumer sales by automobile companies, Elon Musk opened a sales and service center on Native American land. It’s all a little “rules for thee but not for me,” especially on top of all the other ways the brand has ignored the law (from dubious Tweets to union busting).

Musk’s diehard fan base goes crazy for these anti-establishment moves. And that’s part of the problem. There’s no impetus to play fair when a crowd of trolls is cheering on your every move. The New Mexico “workaround” should be seen for what it is: a preview of what’s to come. If there’s a rule that can bend, Musk will be the one to do it. Which leaves us concerned when it comes to things like, oh, fair and safe labor practices or employee unions.

So what now? Honestly, Musk could totally pull off the unthinkable: registering Elon.Sucks and turning it into a communication powerhouse. After all, Musk’s 62.9+ million Twitter followers responded well to his poll about selling Tesla shares in order to pay taxes. A .SUCKS domain is perfect for being upfront about any scandals and controlling the brand’s (and Elon’s personal) online narrative.
McDonald's | Winner
Low nutrition value, low wages and even lower morals—is it any surprise that McDonald’s topped our list of bad businesses? The Golden Arches may not be showing any physical signs of tarnish, but the brand’s reputation sure is.
Founded in 1940, McDonald’s is the youngest company among our first Bad Business Awards recipients—yet it was easy to declare as our winner. For starters, the global fast-food chain’s customer review score on Better Business Bureau is lower than that of both runners up, Wells Fargo and Kroger. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

McDonald’s is a prime example of a billion-dollar company that pays rock-bottom wages and expects tax payers to pick up the slack through food assistance programs and other social services. Just how bad are the wages? Low enough that McDonald’s workers across 15 cities banned together in May 2021 to strike for $15 minimum wage. To make matters worse, instead of listening to the people that helped it net $5 billion in profit in 2020, the company spied on its workers and labeled minimum-wage activists as a security threat.

And while some naysayers are claiming that minimum-wage jobs only affect teenagers (which is still bad), that’s simply not the case—as demonstrated by a viral TikTok video that showed a senior employee of the franchise struggling to clean a parking lot of trash in the summer heat. Why didn’t the restaurant take the workers’ age and ability into account when delegating tasks?

McDonald’s is desperate to avoid paying a living wage, but apparently has no problem offering potential employees free iPhones (if they make it six months on the job). It’s a move that received a lot of negative attention on Twitter, with one user aptly pointing out that “Companies will do everything but pay you a living wage.”

The bad behavior doesn’t stop there. During Pride 2021, McDonald’s was one of the many large companies called out for using the celebration as a marketing opportunity, despite being known for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians with anti-LGBTQ+ platforms.

To be honest, we’re pretty fed up with the franchise. After all, McDonald’s has long marketed junk to children, mistreated the animals it sources meat from, added chemicals and preservatives to its food and made Happy Meals with chicken nuggets that...have been said to melt?

While we may be the first to “award” Mcdonald’s for disrespecting its employees and customers, we’re certainly not the only ones who have called attention to the brand’s misdemeanors. In the past, McDonald’s has come under fire for everything from systemic sexual harassment and racial discrimination to inadequate COVID-19 protection.

Need we say more?
Wells Fargo | 1 st Runner Up
This is one financial services company you definitely shouldn’t invest in. Don’t believe us? Try asking one of its many disgruntled and overworked employees—or one of its hundreds of duped customers.
Wells Fargo is infamous for once opening millions of fraudulent customer accounts—a scandal that started during the early 2000s and ultimately cost the brand $185 million in fines. For an American multinational financial services company, it can’t get much lower than that. Or maybe it can.

The company has a despicably low score on Better Business Bureau, which also happens to detail several government interventions over improper sales practices (particularly those related to an online insurance referral program in 2019) as well as the aforementioned scheme. It turns out impossible-to-meet sales goals will inspire employees to assign products and services to consumers without their consent. Yikes.

More recently, Wells Fargo has been in the news for exploiting its workforce by failing to pay employees for overtime hours and roping staff into working unpaid night shifts to solicit more business. Not only that, but in July 2021, the financial institution made yet another shockingly anti-consumer move by deciding to shut down all personal lines of credit at the bank to “simplify its product offerings.”

In case you’re wondering: no, customers didn’t permit the bank to close their accounts. And yes, this did have a negative impact on their credit scores—but as usual, the brand didn’t seem to care. Because let’s be honest, Wells Fargo sucks.
Kroger | 2 nd Runner Up
Mistreating your staff is inexcusable during an ordinary year, let alone one when people are grappling with a global pandemic. If you ask us, Kroger needs to clean up a lot more than its aisles.
We’ve all been dealing with COVID-19 in our own ways...but some of us are better at it than others. Take Kroger, an American grocery store chain, for example. In 2021, it was widely criticized for shutting several store locations to avoid a local ordinance on hazard pay in L.A. The proposed 120-day, $5-wage increase was meant to accommodate frontline workers who have kept essential services up and running throughout the pandemic. But rather than pay, Kroger—which has a net worth of over $34 billion—closed multiple stores and laid off more than 250 employees. This isn’t an isolated incident, either; Kroger, which just so happens to be the second-largest grocery store chain in the U.S., pulled the same stunt in Long Beach and Seattle.

On top of that, a man named Alvin Motley Jr. was shot and killed by a security guard outside of a Kroger Fuel Center in Memphis, Tennessee—allegedly over a dispute about loud music playing from his car. Ben Crump, the Motley family’s attorney had this to say to Kroger: “You have a duty to provide safety and have qualified employees and contractors who won’t kill Black people over loud music.”

And if that wasn’t enough, a quick scan of r/Kroger on Reddit shows that the store’s employees are battling everything from scheduling problems to being refused sick leave. While we can applaud the fact that the company has been cracking down on wasteful plastic packaging, until it starts treating employees like people—not numbers—we’ll be taking our business elsewhere.

Eligibility

We love calling brands out on their sh*t as much as the next person...but only if we have a good reason for doing so. To determine our Bad Business Awards winners and runners up, we scour the web to figure out which brands are most getting on peoples’ nerves. Once that’s done, shortlisted companies are ranked based on:

• Their treatment of employees
• Their treatment of customer
• Their CSR initiatives

We do this using their Trustpilot and Better Business Bureau ratings, Indeed Work Happiness scores, CSRHUB and MSCI ESG ratings, and other metrics. The brands with the lowest average scores across all three of the above categories wind up here.

The best way to avoid landing on this list? Take the criticism your brand receives to heart, respond authentically and keep asking for more feedback. At Vox Populi Registry, we believe .SUCKS domains can help with this. Every company will face the wrath of disgruntled employees, customers and competitors at some point or another—but the successful ones have a strategy that helps them use it to their advantage.