Thursday, April 16, 2009

Appearances of Corporate Benevolence

Now that the listeriosis crisis is still fresh in our memories, the scrutiny on the safety practices are in place and things are being changed. Also, the economic crisis being what it is, encourages a scrutiny on certain corporations and their bookkeeping practices in giving out bonuses while filing for bankruptcy.

But what happened? The meatpacking plant that brought about the listeriosis bacteria had a proper safety procedure on paper which "technically" allowed for someone to raise the alarm if they had a suspicion. The corporations that offered bonuses for a job well done were offered based upon the measuring of performance which looked "technically" decent on paper.

Well it seems that perhaps what the corporations tell themselves or to the public at large does not correspond to the realities of the day to day operations. On the one hand, the meatpacking plant says "safety first" but during the work hour, the employee is rewarded in going quicker than before to prove he is productive which automatically means that safety is sacrificed. The employee focuses on what is measurable: like his speed to produce and ignores the safety concerns that would slow him down. This is how he gets his promotion, this is what he is encouraged to do by his direct supervisors who also have to answer their higher ups with statistics of good performance. One can almost hear a naive employee say to his supervisor: "But head office or our training video says to take this extra step to ensure proper safety." To which the supervisor answers the employee: "I don't care what the training video or head office says, they don't deal with day to day operations, do it the quick way and things will be fine."

This mentality is also seen when statistics demonstrate that corporate bosses have done well enough to deserve a bonus the very day the corporation is declaring for bankruptcy. One thing is easily measured and this is where the lowly employee all the way up to the corporate boss excel in getting their promotion or their bonus and then there is the reality. The listeriosis tragedy did occur and the corporation has gone bankrupt. Although we have scrutiny today, the lessons will be forgotten and we will continue to base our performance more on reaction speed than on proper thinking or proper precautions.

This reminds me of the car manufacturer who judges whether or not they should recall a defective car part by statistics of how many would get injured and how much they could sue the company versus the cost of recalling all the defective parts. If the cost of suing the car manufacturer is 2 million and it would cost 3 million to recall the defective parts that would cause accidents.... well the car manufacturer ignores the recall and believes that they just saved 1 million dollars. Yet this same car manufacturer has brochures that indicates that the safety of their parts are of paramount importance.

How can we trust the benevolence of any corporation whose primary focus is on an artificially created resource we call money? How can we trust a corporation that rewards each of its employees to focus on productivity which is easily measured while ignoring its own corporate vision of proper ethical practices? We all work in places like these, the proof is in the news. Yesterday it was company X, today its company Y, tommorrow it may be the company where you work at.... but they all suffer the same problem and no one is willing to truly fix the problem, only put a bandaid to give the appearance of healing.

Can the bandaid stop a stomach ache? Yet that is how we attempt to solve our economic crisis: You have a headache? Put this bandaid on your forehead. You are bleeding on your elbow? Take this aspirin. In the meantime, true doctors in society are still unrecognized and still attempt to give the proper diagnosis despite their lack of time to do so.

Oh and note how I do not blame any one particular company or any specific individual. I believe the problem is systemic as well as individual responsibility.... but too often we point the finger at one specific person or corporation and turn it into a scapegoat while the other individuals or other corporations who do the exact same practice hide in the shadows and pretend that they are innocent. So the news already has the names of corporations or individuals that you can sneer at, I don't need to add more fuel to the fire of sneering. I wish we would do less snearing and more soul-searching/thinking to actually attempt at transforming our flawed system into something better. But then again, our employers won't give us the time to actually think about solutions. So the citizen who practices democracy is transformed into the employee who produces and the consumer who consumes.... who needs to think under those circumstances?