In the past week, there has been an influx of headlines shaming and indicting various corporations, business owners and other major or minor players in the world of commerce. To rattle off a couple, a bar was forced to compensate a woman for needing surgery after ingesting a liquid nitrogen shot, and a deposed peanut company owner is being sentenced to 28 years for conspiracy involved in the death of nine people from products tainted with salmonella. It seems like businesses everywhere can’t catch a break for their malfeasances.
The worst part about being an executive or business leader is the fact that were something to go wrong in your business, and someone were to get hurt from your product, it’s your ass on the line. At least, that’s what a business might want you to believe. At the end of the day, no matter how large a business, it is a failure on behalf of the one in charge. Willfully ignoring the warning signs of subordinates, playing fast and loose with safety concerns, pushing for unrealistic productivity and profit margins; all of these are potential reasons for catastrophic failures such as the cases I’ve mentioned. If the fault rests upon the subordinate, the investigatory body will look at the facts and determine who is at fault. And yet, in spite of all these regularly orchestrated corporate cleansings and safety crusades, businesses and the free market live on, with a fresh set of newly elected executives.
I’m not out to crucify executives or business leaders, or call for the heads of those who have made mistakes. Instead, I concern myself with the safety of myself, those around me and the planet. I’m worried about the vaccuum of business ethics and concern for consumers that begins where alphabet soup agency regulations end. While the topics of copyright law in the pharmaceutical industry, predatory loaning towards veterans, cheating the EPA, and exposing scandal in industries should each have their own stories told in full, the common thread binding them is the absence of compassion in the search for a profit.
The first major topical incident I want to discuss is that of Turing Pharmaceuticals’ price gouging of the drug Daraprim, used to treat toxoplasmosis infections in children, pregnant women and those suffering through cancer or AIDS. The price went from under $14 to $750 a tablet overnight, causing concerned doctors, hospitals and various nonprofits to cry foul on what is technically a legal adjustment of price. The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli, has taunted his “haters” (also known as rational people concerned about having to switch to less effective methods of treatment) over Twitter, retweeting criticisms leveled at him and even quoting Eminem to describe his disdain. What Shkreli is doing isn’t illegal, but it puts the health of people dependent on it in the hands of the next best alternative. The worst part of such actions is that the drug is niche enough to where alternatives and other options exist, and he stands to gain more profits for his 5,000 percent increase than he does losing customers.
The second news story that’s been catching a lot of attention has been Volkswagen’s manipulation of the computers aboard their Clean Diesel lines of automobiles. In a lawsuit that has been described as “sinister” and one of the largest conspiracies of our time, the vehicles were designed to detect the steering and acceleration patterns indicative of a smog test being administered, the vehicles would switch into a mode that would emit significantly less nitrous oxide than they actually were, effectively cheating the system. Contrary to Mr. Shkreli, Volkswagen issued a total recall of the affected models, as well as preparing to respond to the fines, currently hovering around $18 billion, leveled at the company.
Finally, Stewart Parnell of Peanut Corporations of America is facing life in prison for his almost sociopathic decision to ship peanut butter tainted with salmonella. Being responsible for nine deaths and 714 cases of illness, his negligence is well-documented, and comes down to a particularly chilling phrase – “just ship it.” Profits came before people, and it hurt hundreds. What happens when such an attitude of carelessness becomes the norm, where regulatory agencies and companies share a shrug at the fines or sanctions imposed on them for such horrible offenses?
These three cases are the good, the bad and the ugly of the world of responsible business practice (not in that order). Decisions to execute such heinous plans such as those of Volkswagen or Parnell should be nipped in the bud, such as in the case of Turing Pharmaceuticals, instead of idly standing by until people get hurt.
Sergey is a sophomore majoring in international studies and economics. Do businesses police themselves well enough or should they take more responsibility for their actions? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.