Saturday, August 21, 2010

Robert Reich Reflects on a Corporate Criminal

The tainted egg scandal is headline news in the US. Robert Reich takes time to reflect on what he knows about the criminal who runs this criminal egg enterprise:
Thirteen years ago when I was Secretary of Labor, DeCoster agreed to pay a $2 million penalty (the most we could throw at him) for some of the most heinous workplace violations I’d seen. His workers had been forced to live in trailers infested with rats and handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands. It was an agricultural sweatshop.

Several people in Maine told me the fine wouldn’t stop DeCoster. He’d just consider it a cost of doing business. Evidently they were right. DeCoster’s commercial egg business has a record that would make a repeat offender blush.

In 2003, DeCoster pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants (who don’t complain about unsafe working conditions, below-minimum-wage pay, and unsanitary facilities). DeCoster paid a record $2.1 million penalty for that one.

In the 1990s he was charged by Iowa authorities for violating state environmental laws governing the runoff of manure into rivers. He continued to violate environmental laws so often that the Iowa Supreme Court approved an order barring him from building more hog structures.

In 2002 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fined DeCoster’s operation $1.5 million for mistreating female workers. The charges included rape, sexual harassment, and other abuses.

Earlier this year, DeCoster paid another fine to settle state animal cruelty charges against his egg operations in Maine.

In other words, the current national salmonella outbreak is just the latest in a long series of DeCoster corporate crimes. He’s fostered a culture that disregards any law standing in the way of profits. Along the way, DeCoster has abused the environment, animals, his employees, and his customers.
Reich goes on to suggest some very cheap, very modest changes in the bureaucracy that would help corral these corporate criminals. Go read the whole article.

What I find hard to swallow is the two-tier system of justice. You go rob a corner store and pocket $100, you will spend years in jail. But if you are a corporate criminal who repeatedly injures workers and customers, the country says "please and thank you" to you and raps you on the wrist with minor fines that don't even equal one day's profits.

One of the fundamental requirements of justice is that the punishment meet the crime. It doesn't. Another is that criminal prosecution be swift and sure. It isn't. Another is that justice must be seen to be done. It isn't.

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