General Motors must be held accountable for negligence leading to the deaths of 13 drivers. We have now learned that GM could have avoided the faulty ignition switch issue if it had paid an extra 90 cents per car. GM and the responsible corporate officers at the company must be held accountable and face criminal penalties for killing people – but under current law, that won’t happen.
As we see time and time again, some corporations put profits ahead of customer safety. Richard Cohen writes, “[GM] is a bloodless corporation that was — remember? — quite willing to insist to some poor victim that it was not the same GM that had made the faulty car.”
This is, of course, not the only example of corporate wrongdoing or negligence which has led to immeasurable human costs. Tales like these are happening every day. On Thursday, Anadarko Petroleum was fined by the federal government over its harmful environmental practices, including leaving radioactive waste piles in Navajo Nation territory. The negligence and sheer lack of concern for anything but profits left 7,000 people sick from radioactive waste.
And as we all know, not one Wall Street executive was put in prison for gambling away the hard-earned savings and retirement accounts of millions of Americans. Big banks crashed the economy, leading to the worst economic crisis we’ve had since the Great Depression — millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes and their financial security. So you’d think that the executives would be in trouble, but instead, we bailed them out.
Our nation’s system of public protections needs to be strengthened so that those responsible don’t get away with their crimes. How is any company incentivized to act according to the law if corporations pay just a small fine to make their problems go away?
As a country, we must establish clear criminal penalties for cases where there was a failure to inform and warn and strengthen our federal rulemaking agencies — not just NHTSA — that have the responsibility of setting standards to protect the public from just this sort of corporate corner-cutting.
Finally, we need to ensure companies take health and safety seriously — that they don’t see loss of life of workers as a “cost of doing business” that they are willing to absorb because the fines are low. Today, even the biggest companies in the country can be fined just $7,000 for an individual safety violation that could lead to a worker’s death. Today, we see companies facing penalties for their negligence such as GM, Anadarko and Wall Street banks — but no one involved will go to jail. We need a more serious deterrent: the real threat of jail time for a corporate officer who knowingly avoided consumer and worker safety to increase profits.