I was listening to Democracy Now this morning, and Amy Goodman was interviewing Tyson Slocum, who was talking about BP’s patterns of negligence leading up to this recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Read the transcript if you like, but the take away point is that BP for years has violated labor law, environmental law, OSHA, and almost everything else you can imagine. 11 workers died in this last explosion, 15 died in a 2005 explosion, and, no doubt, the environmental damages to this oil spill are nearly incalculable.
They have been fined by the government, over 550 million dollars in the last decade. Unfortunately they can make profits of about $24 billion in a year, so these fines aren’t exactly doing much to their bottom line. Essentially, BP acts towards safety and environmental laws like most American employers do toward labor law: its cheaper to violate the law and take the fines as a cost of doing business, then it is to comply with them. The inevitable consequence of those types of business practices is that people die. Sure BP execs don’t know which people will die because of their practices, but they surely know that some people will die.
Nothing new, I suppose. But think of how amazing that we have simply come to accept the fact that if a corporation breaks the law and kills people, they get a small fine; but if an individual does the same thing they go to jail. And if they’ve got brown skin or they’re muslim, they get sent to some medieval torture cell. A number of liberals were shocked at the Citizens United ruling because it seemed to grant corporations the right to free speech, as if they were individuals. There is a sort of shock: how could corporations come up to our level?! But, as this BP mess shows, that’s the least of it. Corporations have effectively more rights than we do as citizens, since they can commit what is essentially manslaughter, and get away with simply a fine.
I hope no one tells Al Qaeda. If they just incorporated, think of what they could get away with…