Corporate Criminals

The news this morning tells me that the Hungarian police have detained the director of the company that owns the metals plant where a reservoir flooded several towns with toxic red sludge. The government has taken over the plant, frozen it’s assets and says it will be reopened under new and improved management.

There is no news yet on the fate of the director. He should hope he gets an easier ride than the Chinese execs who were held liable for the poisoning of millions of pounds of milk a few years back. They don’t mess around in China. Three got the death penalty, the Board Chair got life in prison and three others got prison terms ranging from five to 15 years. Gee, wonder what would have happened if something like this had happened in the USA?

If you were President of Massey Energy, which was responsible for allowing about 2 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge to inundate about 100 miles of waterways in Martin County,WV in 2000, you would still be on the job, making big bonuses and a massive salary. The sludge blackened 100 miles of waterways, polluted the water supply of more than a dozen communities, killed aquatic life and still forms a thick ooze on the beds of creeks in the area. Massey limited it’s liability with the help of what many believe to be a massive cover-up by the Busch Administration, and ultimately paid $5,600 in fines.

Massey President Don Blankenship is said to have earned $24 million in 2007, and $11.2 million in 2008. Having overseen the operation of Massey through its most recent disaster, an explosion at Performance Coal’s Upper Big Branch Mine, which killed 29 miners, Blankenship still shows no sign of losing his job, his massive income, or of going to jail. Not that someone is not likely to pay.

In 2006, two miners died in a Massey’s Aracoma Mine, and this summer, four mine supervisors pled guilty to federal charges. They face a year in the slam and up to $100,000 in fines. That’s the way it works in the USA, the little guys take the rap and the fat cats skate. It is often suggested that the little guys are encouraged by the bosses … sometimes with loss of their jobs… not to follow safety rules. Certainly, anyone who is familiar with the mechanics of chain of command might find that scenario plausible.

“I find it difficult to believe that individual foreman were responsible for the conditions that ultimately found themselves at Aracoma,” lawyer Bruce Stanley said. “The mine was a mess, and it’s incomprehensible that the mine could have gotten in the condition it had without the knowledge and understanding of upper management.”

It’s the Federal Mine Act that specifically holds the mine supervisors liable and lets the big boys skate. And you think the U.S. Congress is not in the pocket of the fat cats?

I think the death penalty may be a draconian solution to an obvious management problem, but it’s a sure bet that Chinese executives are more aware of their responsibilities than are your average American coal executives.   A little criminal justice for corporate bad behavior is not a bad plan.

One thought on “Corporate Criminals”

  1. I find it distressingly ironic that we are required to consider corporations persons for the purposes of determining their rights, but precluded from treating them like persons when they abdicate their responsibilities. Apparently corporations have no responsibility other than increasing their share prices. They can commit murder, fraud, and property damage in the multi-billions of dollars with impunity. Must be nice.

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