CEOs - No Moral Fibre In Their Soul

Massey Energy's owner makes a $209m settlement, but safety violations that killed 29 miners in West Virginia go unpunished

A police officer standing at the entrance to a mine owned by Massey Energy, just after the Upper Big Branch disaster, April 2010.
A police officer standing at the entrance to a mine owned by Massey Energy, just after the Upper Big Branch disaster, April 2010.

Here is the question: Is economic development a blessing or a curse?

Not everyone can be a millionaire (as the conservatives would like you to believe), only a selected few. These selected few will do anything in their power to control the natural resources of a community, a county, a state(or province) or another country. They can then treat the resource as a commodity to buy or sell it as they please. Controlling the resource also means control over the property in which it resides. As the Republicans love to point out, somewhere in the American Constitution, that everyone has the “right” to property. This so-call basic “right” means to steal, fraud, extort, or blackmail anyone or any organization (even the government) to get what they (corporations or even very rich and greedy individuals) want.

Once they “owned” this resource, the individual(s) can form a company and set up their own rules or codes of conduct of how they are going to extract, distribute and sell the raw materials or products produced from such materials. These rules may or may not follow the law and most likely they won’t. Government officials and members of parliament can be brought off. The company can and does control the workers, the companies that supply the necessary tools to conduct their business and control other businesses they need to have dealings with (the banks, the retailers, and even as far the church, the school and community centers.

Rich with natural resources, a region may feel blessed (thank you, God) for an opportunity to increase everyone’s standard of living. The wealth would seem to be boundless. But get the wrong companies in there controlling the wealth result on only misery: poverty, sickness, environmental devastation and despair. Unfortunately, the CEOs of the controlling corporations can be ruthless and indifferent to the needs of the people who worked in their companies, and those who lived within their boundaries. People, who are employed by such barons, work as slaves with no recourse for wrong dismissals, poor wages or unhealthy and/or unsafe working conditions. These barons are union busters, hide illegal proceedings from the government and lawmakers and refuse to let their employees or community know about changes. They do what please and will squashed any attempts to change their bottom line – make money and lots of it.

Who gets hurt by these mischievous but soul-threatening going-ons? Everyone – except the powerful few at the top. They sometimes give back to the community but these are just tokens to show good faith. Companies may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor community events, or help build playgrounds, fixed community halls or contribute to a worthy cause. But the reality is they only want everyone on board to support their companies’ goals so they can make millions and billions of dollars. The bottom line: the barons don’t care about the hospitals, the schools, the churches or any other community building, unless it directly affects them.

Companies’ best interest is more important the society’s best interest. Why is that? Companies control everything. They just do whatever they want and pretty much get away with it. State (provincial) and federal agencies show little interest in playing lawmakers.

Examples of this are numerous, found in every state (province), and in many primary industries – oil, timber, coal, utility companies, copper, tin, aluminum etc.

Let us look at an example of large coal company operating out of West Virginia. West Virginia is depended on coal revenues produced from coal companies like Massey Energy. And if the demand for coal decreases so does the state budget. But when the economies of the state worsen so does its dependence on coal . And as it turns out, very good news for companies like Massey Energy.

Massey Energy, basically, owns the mountains in the Appalachian. They have the machinery, huge shovels and draglines that dug coal out of the ground and devastate mountains by literailly removing the top of mountains ( and the trees and habitats for wildfire and change the courses of rivers and streams). Massey Energy has been doing environmental damage for over one hundred years.

At the same time, the company has also done economic damage as well. The small communities depend on the coal mines for survival. But nobody is getting rich from the rewards of selling coal except the owner and the CEOs of Massey Energy. It has left a trail of human misery and poverty. There are no safety nets in the mining industry. No laws to protect the worker. No good wages for the worker to support their families, no benefits, and no health insurance. All businesses also depend on the coal company. These business are basically run by Massey. No step on the big coal company’s road to the bank – Massey can and will put you out of business. When a group of people filed a lawsuit against the corporation, Massey Energy spent $3.5 million on political attacks ads to unseat a state supreme court justice who have ruled against Massey. This case cost the company millions of dollars in damages. In another case, Massey Energy sued then Democratic governor Joe Manchin for suggesting that Massey’s involvement in state politics should be closely scrutinize. Massey Energy accused the governor for violating his right to free speech and enforcing state laws against it.

So, has the coal company help the people of West Virginia? Highly unlikely according to the latest statistics. West Virginia remains at the bottom or near the bottom of every indicator dealing with education, employment rate, income level, and well-being. One county in West Virginia lost nearly half of its population in just twenty-three years. The region has some of the highest obesity, cancer, and loss-of-teeth rates in the country. The literacy rate is about the same as that in many Third World countries. The economic resource has definitely been a curse for the people of West Virginia. This has been a human tragedy of epic proportions.

There are many examples you can find in the many parts of the States and other parts of the world. There is the tar sands in Northern Alberta, where the aboriginals are facing destruction of their way of life, by multinational companies entrenching into their terrain. Total devastation is going on such a rapid rate that there isn’t any time to assess the environmental damage or the social damage to the region. And no one, especially the politicians, can even guess where all this “development” is going. There may not even be a market for the “dirty oil” they are extracting out of the tar sands.

Another example is what is happening in Nigeria where vast oil was discovered. You would think that this important discovery would prove beneficial for the Nigerian people. Guess again. Maybe for the ruling government, which will gain royalties from the oil company, Shell. Between 1965 and 2000, the country received $350 billion in oil revenues. By conventional economics logic, the people of Nigeria should be better off since the discovery of oil. Instead, they are poorer than they were before oil was discovered. The country has been torn apart by ethnic and religious conflict, corruption is rife, and the educational level is low. Other countries that are suffering from “the resource curse” are Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Venezuela and Columbia. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is an interesting case. Our demand for cellphones and laptop computers has allowed companies to “invade” the country, taking over the diamond market and later, a rare mineral, coltan, used in the manufacturing of electronic devices. The result: beautiful palaces were built in Belgium while the Congolese were left dying of famine and civil war.

Not all countries suffered from this curse, some countries are blessed. One is Norway. Thanks to a progressive government and a respect towards the environment and it natural resources – oil, fish and forestry products. Instead of letting private enterprises take over these natural resource, these were owned by the government; in other words, a national interest. Thus, the benefits would be shared by all, and as a result, Norway has achieved the highest quality of life in the world. Botswana has done the same. When it came independent in 1966, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. Now, thanks largely to the success of its diamond mines and a national control over them, Botswana is experiencing one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income. The key to avoiding the pitfalls of letting the wrong companies “steal” your natural resources, maintain or improve the educational level of the masses and make sure your government is transparent in its business dealings.

The award is for 2009, and the fatal blast at Upper Big Branch happened in 2010. Never mind that the number of citations issued against Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine more than doubled, to over 500, from 2008
The award is for 2009, and the fatal blast at Upper Big Branch happened in 2010. Never mind that the number of citations issued against Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine more than doubled, to over 500, from 2008

And the safety award goes to ...

The Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association, a non-profit organization, awarded Massey Energy safety awards to nine of its operations for "their exemplary commitment to safety excellence based on their outstanding safety records during 2009," according to a statement from the coal mining company. Oh, by the way,two of the officers in the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association are federal Mine Safety and Health Administration employees

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progressivist 4 years ago

This is a very important hub. We have to realize that corporations have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize short-term profits by any means necessary, including poisoning the environment, killing off their workers (and collecting the life insurance on them), and corrupting the government to rig the system. It's really sad when the quality of life in the U.S. is so poor that the U.N. is condemning the U.S. for human rights violations on a frequent basis. Once they start citing humans rights violations for workers, will people finally start to wake up?

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