The economic world is fed by corporations. They produce money, jobs and sometimes create products and services benefiting society as a whole. Thanks to Wal-Mart low prices are available on a vast variety of products, to Exxon we have gas for our vehicles, to Edison electricity for our homes and businesses. One would think these corporations are a great public service. However, according to The Corporation by Joel Bakan “corporations are legally required always to put their own interests above everyone else’s” (Bakan 118).
This is the corporate principle, a law mandate for corporations. This should make one ponder that if selfishness is involved others can get hurt. Considering past events such as car accidents, newly created sweat shops, environmental pollution and harm to human health accurately supports the idea that corporations acting for their own self-interest lead corporations to disregard product safety and human rights causing harm the public’s interest. The consequences caused, regardless if they are positive or negative, corporations see as others’ problems. Their main goal is to maximize the wealth of the shareholders (Bakan 37) regardless of the harm to others.
One major consequence is the unnecessary harm to people. A woman by the name of Patricia Anderson was driving home with her children in her 1979 Chevrolet Malibu when she was rear ended by another vehicle and her car exploded into flames causing second and third degree burns to each of them (Bakan 61). She then sued General Motors and won. Bakan mentions, “The evidence in the trial showed that General Motors had been aware of the possibility of fuel-fed fires when it had designed the Malibu and some of its other models as well” (62). The judge also indicated that General Motors behavior was morally reprehensible and against the laws because the put profits above public safety (Bakan 63).
This situation could have been avoided if the company followed the safety rules. It was recommended to the company to have fuel tanks placed at least seventeen inches from the rear bumper, but the fuel tank was only eleven inches away (Bakan 62). Even with this information, GM disregarded the safety recommendation all for their greedy pursuit for money. This unfortunate type of damage is not the only type damage corporations have caused to people. Harm to human health is constantly being threatened by food corporations. It is known that many farmers give their chickens, pigs and cows antibiotics and hormones. According to an article in MSN news, "An estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. wind up on animal farms" (Perrone par. 13).
Drugs like Penicillin are commonly mixed with animal feed and water to help livestock, pigs and chickens put on weight and stay healthy in overcrowded barns (Perrone par. 2). This overuse of antibiotics is causing the increasing resistance of bacteria and making it harder to fight diseases. In a recent study at the University of Berkeley, to multi-drug resistant strain of E-coli isolated from beef cattle to clusters of Urinary Tract Infections in women (Brownlee 1).
It seems as if the antibiotics fed to cows are working against women’s health. The consumption of beef is building a resistance to the antibiotics that are supposed to cure these infections. It is “suspected that by eating meat from an infected animal, women had inadvertently sown their intestines with drug-resistant bacteria that later produced UTIs” (Brownlee 2). This is just one example and only from the antibiotics given to cows. They are also being given hormones in order to grow larger and produce more money for corporations. “The hormones cause the cows to rapidly put on weight, leading to approximately $80 more profit per animal” (Gutierrez 1).
Unfortunately, the feed produced in the United States with the dangerously high levels of natural and synthetic hormones is well known to increase the risk of cancer, reproductive dysfunctions and other health problems according to Dr. Epstein from the Cancer Prevention Coalition (Gutierrez 1). If this isn’t proof enough of health risks involved with hormones, it is a well-known fact that women going through menopause are not allowed to take hormones if they have or ever had cancer since external hormones increase your chances of the cancer returning. It is appalling that corporations are aware of the risks of antibiotics and hormones being given not only to the cows but also to the chickens and pigs, yet, in order to pursue their own self-interest they continue to purchase and sell animals from these farms.
Their banks accounts keep growing larger while the rest of the public has to deal with medical bills and loss of loved ones. Not only is the loss of innocent mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins and all others worrisome but the abuse of these people are as well. In 1938 President Roosevelt’s administration created the Fair Labor Standards Act, which completely banned all sweatshops, child labor and industrial homework in the United States (Bakan 73).
Corporations, however, have found a loop hole. They are now going outside the U.S. to produce their products. One major corporation involved with sweatshop is Nike. In order to reduce the cost of manufacturing their products and maximizing their profits Nike has a factory in the Dominican Republic. According to Bakan, it takes about 6.6 minutes and eight cents of labor to make a Nike shirt which costs $22.99 in the United States (Bakan 67).
These people are hard at work making what is hardly enough to feed themselves much less their families and only because Nike wants to save money. It’s funny how Nike has money to sign million dollar contracts with athletes to endorse their products, but do not have the money to properly pay the producers that they could not do without. Wal-Mart also sells products manufactured in sweat shops.
The sweat shop they buy their school uniforms from in Bangladesh has employees working long hours with little pay. The workers are made to work up to 19-hour shifts and being paid as little as $20 a month (Gogoi par. 1). Reports of abuse and mistreatment have been sent to Wal-Mart. It showed that if employees were late they were punished by standing for hours and are frequently being verbally abused, kicked or beaten (Gogoi par. 2-4).
General Electric is another corporation guilty of mistreating people. They have been fined on several occasions. Some of the fines involved include discrimination against employees who reported safety violations and violating worker safety rules (Bakan 75-76). It is unnecessary to mistreat the poor people with hardly enough money and food to support their families, however, corporations like Wal-Mart, Nike and General Electric have no concern they are helping to increase the income of their already wealthy investors and that is their only aim due to the corporate principle. Unfortunately, the after effects of fluffing the wallets of the investors go beyond just people.
Harm to animals and the beautiful environment is also somebody’s problem, but not the corporations. Most are aware of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There was 11 million gallons of oil spilled, ruining over a thousand miles of coastline, killing hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales, and devastating the local communities (Yardley par. 2) and leaving other people cleaning up their mess. It polluted the water so deeply preventing fishing for both work and pleasure. Once again this was caused by BP and its partners for making a series of cost-cutting decisions and the lack of a system to ensure safety.
This brings us back to General Electric is a major offender of environmental harm. Fines for this includes $96 million in damages for contamination from dumping of industrial chemicals, ordered to clean up of PCB of Hudson River, violations of Clean Air Act and many more (Bakan 76-77). There are also things like paper mills that use rivers to make paper and remove their waste. An example of a paper mill causing harm is the one on Pigeon River. It pollutes our air with hydrogen-sulfide fumes, smokestacks and billowing steam (Martin 36).
While the amount of pollution in the water, according to a study, has shown over 600 cases of cancer in the last 30 years from hundreds of men who fished and swam in the river (Martin 35). Unfortunately, even with all the negative harm being done to our environment the mill is not likely to close. It gives jobs, produces money and provides a good to the public, which seem to outweigh the cons. Cons, that is what it feels like the Corporations offer more than pros. The pursuit of their stockholders self-interest seems to constantly be damaging someone or something else uninvolved.
Even with a regulatory system in place it “often fails because of lax regulations and ineffective enforcement” (Bakan 84). Unless there are changes made and a way is found to prevent these consequences, people will continue to get hurt by the corporations’ need to pursuit money and power. The harm they cause to people, animals and our environment is a large price to pay for the services and goods they provide. Yet, people support them by willingly giving them their hard earned money as if it were a need to have corporations around. We survived 1900 years without them what makes us need them now? .
Works Cited Bakan, Joel. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. New York: Free Press, 2005. Print. Brownlee, Christen. “The Beef About UTIs”. ScienceNews Magazine. Society for the Science and the Public, 15 Jan. 2005. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. Gogoi, Pallavi. "Wal-Mart Supplier Accused Of Sweatshop Conditions." Businessweek Online (2008):5. Business Source Elite.
Web. 30 Sept. 2012. Gutierrez, David. “Hormones in U.S. Beef Linked to Cancer Risk”. Natural New. Truth Publishing International, Inc. 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. Martin, Edward. "TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY. (Cover Story)." Business North Carolina 25.7 (2005): 34-36. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 30 Sept. 2012.
Yardley, William. "Community's Recovery Still Incomplete After Exxon Valdez Spill." NewYork Times 06 May 2010: 22. Regional Business News. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.