Inside the Tyson Foods Empire

Last week, Tyson Foods -- the Arkansas-based poultry and meatpacking conglomerate -- announced a $1.5 million settlement with the SEC for making "misleading or inadquate disclosures" about payments and perks showered on top executives, especially former senior chairman Don Tyson.

One can see why the company was a bit hesitant to let the public (and shareholders) know the details:

During his four years as senior chairman of Tyson Foods Inc., the perks Don Tyson received were striking even in an era of lavish executive compensation.

They included $464,132 for personal use by him and his family and friends of company-owned homes in the English countryside and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, $20,000 for oriental rugs, $18,000 of antiques, $84,000 in lawn maintenance at five homes where he and his family and friends lived, an $8,000 horse, and other jewelry, artwork, vacations and theater tickets. The company also paid Mr. Tyson $1.1 million to cover his personal income-tax liability associated with all these benefits.

The Arkansas magnate ... had the company pick up the tab for numerous services used by his wife, daughters and three girlfriends, according to people familiar with the matter. While senior chairman, Mr. Tyson spent $46,110 to maintain nine automobiles, $15,000 on Christmas gift certificates and $203,675 on housekeeping services at five homes owned by Mr. Tyson, his family and three friends "with whom he had close personal relationships," the SEC said.

While Mr. Tyson -- a close friend and supporter of Bill Clinton, who some say helped Tyson Foods in its $1.4 billion hostile takeover of rival meatpacking giant IBP -- was living out such family values, Tyson's workers haven't been faring as well:

*** In 2002, while Tyson Foods was doubling CEO John Tyson's salary (Don's son), the company laid off 1,500 workers.

*** A Department of Labor investigation in 2000 revealed that 100% of the Tyson plants they surveyed did not pay their workers for all the hours they worked. The violations were so egregious that even Bush's lax Department of Labor was moved to indict the company for violating Wage and Hour laws affecting 70,000 workers; Tyson Foods continues to fight the indictment.

*** Due to low pay and dangerous jobs, the annual turnover rate at Tyson's poultry processing plants is around 75 percent (in stark contrast to the scandal-ridden executives, who the company can't seem to bring themselves to fire -- Don Tyson is on the company payroll for "advisory" services through 2011).

In light of these and other growing corporate scandals, who in government is fighting for a corporate accountability agenda?