Who have been the pantomime villains of the business world this year?

Every year in business, there are individuals and organisations who stand out for all the wrong reasons. Whether it’s the awful way they treat employees, the lies they tell the public, or greenwashing their environmental impact, the business world is home to its fair share of villains. Here at Business Leader, we’ve rounded them up.

If you think there is someone we missed on this list, please send an email to editor@businessleader.co.uk and we will add them in.

H&M

Although H&M are not the only fast-fashion retailer to be accused of greenwashing, they were arguably the most high-profile case in 2021. In a report which investigated the world’s biggest fast fashion brands and their environmental claims, 96% of H&M’s sustainability claims were found to be misleading.

H&M’s Conscious collection, which is pitched as a clothing line made from more sustainable materials, was also found to contain a higher share of damaging synthetic materials than its main line (72% compared to 61%).

Vishal Garg

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg became infamous in December of this year when he sacked 900 of the online mortgage lender’s employees over Zoom. Whilst on the call, Garg told the 900 staff members “If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off” and accused them of stealing, a move which has led to widespread condemnation.

Since the mass sacking via video call, Garg has apologised and is now taking time off from the company, who have brought in an outside firm to do a leadership and cultural assessment.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff BezosThe Founder of Amazon and now the world’s second-richest person, Jeff Bezos has found himself lumbered with plenty of negative press throughout the year. His highly publicised ventures into space, for example, have led to widespread criticism with respect to the environmental impact of space travel.

Recently, he was criticised for posting about his latest commercial space mission on social media several times, whilst failing to publicly address a tornado that killed six people at an Amazon distribution centre in Illinois.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club

The racism scandal that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Club sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world. Former cricket player Azeem Rafiq revealed 43 allegations of harassment and bullying at the club – seven of which were upheld by an independent panel after a formal investigation.

The club then said that no player, employee or executive would face any disciplinary action for the report’s findings, but several high-profile figures from the club have since resigned. This included former Chairman Roger Hutton, who initially concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to say the club was “institutionally racist”. However, Hutton later apologised to Rafiq and accepted that the club was institutionally racist.

BrewDog

Since its launch in 2007, Scottish craft beer firm BrewDog has continuously hit the headlines for the wrong reasons and this year was no different. This year, 61 former employees accused brewer of creating a “toxic work culture”, where workers were bullied and “treated like objects”. This led to separate public apologies from Co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie.

Whilst accusing the Aberdeenshire-based company, former employees also accused the company, which has long boasted of its sustainability credentials, of discarding 50% of the glacier water used to create an environmentally-friendly beer.

Jes Staley

American banker Jes Staley had been working in the banking world for almost four decades; his most recent role being the CEO of Barclays, a position which he held for six years. But after an investigation into his links to paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Staley left his role at Barclays.

Since leaving his role, reports have emerged which claim that 1,200 emails had been exchanged between Staley and Epstein over the years.

Nigel Farage

A name that is synonymous with Brexit, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is currently the President of Reform UK, although you could be mistaken for thinking otherwise after he did not turn up for the party’s first conference since the 2019 general election.

Since leaving frontline politics, Farage’s main focus has been on his media career and as he broadcasted for GB News on the day of Reform UK’s conference, it would appear his media career is still his number one priority.

Elon Musk

Elon MuskDespite recently overtaking Jeff Bezos as the richest person in the world and being named Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’, 2021 has been far from criticism-free for Elon Musk. The SpaceX Founder has been criticised heavily in the US for his opposition to a “billionaires tax”, and according to a Propublica investigation that took place this year, Musk only paid a “real” tax rate of 3.27% from 2014 to 2018, in spite of his personal wealth dramatically increasing in that period.

Musk was also criticised by Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labour, after being named Person of the Year, who said he “illegally threatened to take away stock options if employees unionised”.

Ghislaine Maxwell

British Socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has become very well-known for her association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and is currently on trial, accused of grooming teenage girls for abuse by the now-deceased American financier.

At this point in the trial, Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the eight charges that against her, whilst the prosecution has rested their case against her after two weeks of testimony. The trial continues.

Insulate Britain

In September and October this year, environmental activity group Insulate Britain blockaded the M25 along with other motorways and roads in the UK. Whilst this was done with the aim of helping the environment by compelling the government to insulate all social housing in the UK by 2025 and retrofit all homes with insulation by 2030, the move ended up angering much of the British public and led to criticism from several high-profile Tory MPs.

Dominic Raab

There are lots of reasons why Justice Secretary Dominic Raab makes this list, with the most recent being coming up with different figures in three interviews for the total number of people in hospital with the Omicron variant.

Raab has also been heavily criticised by lawyers for his plans to alter the Human Rights Act, which include introducing a permission stage to “deter spurious human rights claims” and change the balance between freedom of expression and privacy.

Matt Hancock

If there was an award for the most-disgraced politician of the year, it would have to go to Matt Hancock. Back in June, a video emerged of the former Health Secretary kissing Gina Coladangelo, a Non-Executive Director at the Department of Health. This clear breach of social distancing guidelines was made all the worse with Hancock being the government official continuously telling the UK public to obey the various Covid-19 rules. Plus, Hancock and Coladangelo were both married with three children.

Everyone at COP26

Boris Johnson and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

Boris Johnson and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at COP26

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, was one of the most criticised events of the year. Several high-profile world leaders were absent, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping; all the world leaders who did attend flew in on private jets; only a few countries are set to make their climate pledges legally binding and the cost to cover hosting the event was close to £100m.

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