When I was young, my family owned a Ford Pinto. You remember the Pinto. It was ugly, with a four-cylinder engine, which barely made it up and down the hills of San Francisco and, if rear-ended in a crash, exploded like a Molotov cocktail. Yeah, that Pinto. Ford knew if the car was struck from behind it could turn into a fireball and people died. The company made an actuarial decision that it was cheaper to pay off a few lawsuits by the families of dead or disfigured drivers, than it was to recall the car and fix the problem. The account of their callousness towards unsuspecting customers is now the stuff of legend and we were told it couldn't happen again because now they teach ethics in business schools. The reality is Ford embodied corporate evil...questionable ethics (if any)...everything which is wrong with the amoral corporate culture and they were an object lesson to future companies about how much you could get away with and stay in business.
General Motors knew in 2004 they had a problem with the ignition switch in certain model cars. If the ignition key was on a heavy key chain, or got jostled in some manner, it could cause the switch to jump from "run" to "accessory". This would kill the engine and render the air bags useless. In 2005, they got their first report of a fatality due to the defect. They notified their dealers about a fix, but told them not to bring it up unless a customer specifically asked about it. They knew this could kill but directed their dealers not to volunteer any information. In the ensuing years, 12 more people died, many more injured, and yet it is only in 2014 that General Motors finally issued a recall. Oh, and they are sorry and you shouldn't blame them because this was done by a different General Motors than the current company. Huh?
(N.B. my daughter owns one of these cars mentioned in published reports. She had no idea about all of this and when she inquired was told she had nothing to worry about, as the dealer hadn't heard anything negative about her car. I'm not kidding)
I taught a class on ethics, as part of the Theology department, to juniors and seniors in high school. The first day I singled out a student and presented her with a scenario in which she is the head of a corporation, which produces toxic waste. If they process it and clean it up it will cost a fortune and hurt profits, but if they dump it in the local river they will make money. She indignantly responded she would never agree to dump in the river. I then mentioned if she didn't dump, she would be fired, lose her home, her kids would have to leave school and she would never work in the industry again. She pondered for a moment and then said, "...oh, then I guess I would have to rethink my decision." Welcome to corporatism 101. When are we going to learn?
There is great pressure on President Obama to approve the Keystone oil pipeline. This despite numerous reports of the poor safety recorded of its owner, Trans Canada. (the promise they would never build something, which would leak) In West Virginia, and throughout the nation, corporations which store and work with toxic chemicals operate essentially on the honor system, due to corporate pressure against regulation, and promise to voluntarily police themselves. In West, Texas, no one in the town new what was being stored by a chemical company until it exploded and wiped out homes, a school and a few people as well. Recently in Pacheco, Ca, Tesoro Oil Company had a pipe burst and spray workers with acid causing burns and injuries. When federal inspectors showed up to investigate the incident, the company refused to let them on the property claiming they had no jurisdiction. (this was only the latest in a series of problems at Tesoro) Supporters of fracking want us to trust the companies pumping toxic water into the ground. The companies will spend whatever, do whatever to protect local aquifers and ground water and there is no need for more regulations. What was it P.T. Barnum always said?
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most evil organizations in this nation, spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to eliminate or dilute regulations aimed at monitoring corporate America. They were behind the de-regulation of the financial industry. (how did that work out?) They oppose regulations forcing corporations to be more transparent and to hold them responsible when they cause harm. They oppose attempts to get companies to bolster their cyber security. (can anyone say Target?) Recently, they were in front of the Supreme Court trying to gut attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases produced by corporations. At every turn, corporations ask us to trust them when they cannot be trusted. Apple says trust us that your iPhone, iPad and Macbook aren't being made by slave labor. Google says trust us we are really giving away our Android system for free, until you find out that anyone who uses it for an app has to make Google search the default setting locking out anyone else. Silicon Valley screams about too much regulation stifling innovation while they sacrifice your privacy for their profit. (and give the government backdoors to spy on all y our online activity)
That's the bottom line you can never avoid...the bottom line. A corporation will always choose profit over principal. They have to. It's their nature. The phrase "corporate ethics" is an oxymoron. The only check we have is through regulations and lawsuits. (regulations are certainly not a panacea since the same corporations spend millions lobbying to water them down like they did with the Dodd/Frank financial regulation legislation rendering it toothless) Corporate America constantly tries to get Congress to pass, and the President sign, so-called tort reform to make it more difficult than it already is to hold them accountable for their corrupt practices...trying to prevent anyone from suing them for any reason.
For 10 years, General Motors knew their cars were killing people and did little or nothing to stop it until the butcher's bill got too high to ignore. Now, they are sorry and join the likes of J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs et.al. who are so sorry for almost destroying the world's economy, costing millions their homes and jobs while paying nice bonuses to their leaders for doing exactly what is in the corporation's best interest no matter who is harmed. WILL WE EVER LEARN?