A new piece of legislation introduced this week by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) would ensure that corporate executives who knowingly market life-threatening products or continue unsafe business practices are held criminally responsible when people die or are injured.
Under the Hide No Harm Act, key corporate managers will be required by law to report serious dangers to relevant government agencies, employees and affected members of the public. No longer will corporate executives be able to walk away from their crimes with a light fine. When individuals knowingly allow harmful products and practices to endanger the lives of workers and consumers, the penalties will be appropriate and proportionate: heavy fines and jail time.
This bill comes in the devastating wake of the many preventable deaths and injuries caused by General Motors’ vehicle ignition defects. Although GM officials knew about the defects for as long as 13 years before issuing a recall on their cars, no one is going to jail. Unfortunately, this is just one recent example in a long list of cases of corporate malfeasance leading to unnecessary death:
- Toyota intentionally concealed information from the public about defects in their automobiles that caused them to accelerate even as drivers were trying to slow them down, leading to at least five deaths and resulting in no criminal penalties for individual Toyota executives.
- Guidant, a company that manufacturers cardiovascular medical products, allowed 37,000 malfunctioning heart defibrillators to be sold, even after executives learned of deaths caused by the short-circuiting of their devices.
- Second Chance Body Armor, a bulletproof vest manufacturer, sold defective vests to hundreds of thousands of law enforcement and military personnel, fully aware that the Zylon material used in the product was degrading and therefore penetrable, meaning bullets could pass through them.
These examples demonstrate the need for legislation that sets serious consequences for corporate executives who place the value of company profits over human lives. The American public and the families of these victims deserve justice. “No money will ever bring my wife’s daughter back,” said Ken Rimer, the stepfather of a young woman who was killed in a car crash after her air bags failed to deploy due to the ignition switch failure. But “unless there’s a consequence for them doing something wrong, what’s going to stop them from doing something wrong again?”