Saturday, June 14, 2014

GM Versus BP

Every year, thousands of Americans as well as citizens abroad are killed or injured in accidents involving automobiles manufactured by General Motors Corporation. Many of these deaths and injuries could be avoided by automobile design changes, some of them quite trivial. But as in the case of the Chevy Cruze ignition switch defect, known to have been the cause of multiple deaths, GM is inclined to ignore such hazards to its customers rather than incur minimal costs. Following the exposure of GM's disregard for life and limb, the company has been fined $35 million by the US Transportation Safety Administration. In Canada and elsewhere, however, GM has suffered no penalty whatever.

In contrast with the indulgent attitude of American government and legal authorities toward death through negligence by the country's largest manufacturing company, the same authorities seem determined to do what they can to destroy BP, a foreign-based company, for an accident in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 oil-rig workers and injured others. So far the Deep Water Horizon blowout has cost BP over $40 billion dollars, a thousand times as much as the penalty imposed on GM for deliberately ignoring a fatal hazard, with the final cost to BP undetermined but potentially much greater.

Why the difference in treatment? No doubt the answer is complex. It is notable, however, that whereas GM deliberately ignored lethal defects in its product to achieve trivial savings, BP's Gulf oil spill was the result of errors and derelictions of duty mainly by its contractors and suppliers, including:
What these contrasting cases suggest about the future of American capitalism is not encouraging. Moreover they are not encouraging for those concerned with the welfare of American workers and consumers, for it suggests that what corporations will in future focus on is not product and workplace safety but influence in Washington, DC.

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