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Toyota, Massey, BP and the shrinking list of good corporate citizens

The idea that companies can be good corporate citizens took a very serious beating in Q1. Toyota skidded off the road in February. Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine exploded on April 5. And British Petroleum blew up on April 20. What joins them was a zeal to maximize profits by cutting corners that endanger their customers and the public.

This came home to me yesterday as I read about the failed attempts by British Petroleum to contain the ecological disaster that has been spewing nearly a mile under the Gulf of Mexico since April 20. Of particular interest was the New York Times story, "Fast-Growing BP Also Has a Mounting List of Spills and Safety Lapses." Under new leadership in 2007, BP settled criminal charges related to the 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Tex., refinery. “Our operations failed to meet our own standards and the requirements of the law....," the company said.

The Times also notes this:

In 2007, an independent review panel appointed by BP and led by James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, painted a scathing portrait of cultural failure at BP, finding that the company put profits before safety.

The story reminded me of Massey Energy's pile of violations. And of a 2005 memo company chief executive Don L. Blankenship sent to his deep mine superintendents. “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. – build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal,” he wrote. “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills.” The Montcoal, W.V., explosion that claimed 29 lives is the worst coal-mining disaster in U.S. history.

Then there's Toyota's mea culpa.

“We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization,” said Toyota president Akio Toyoda in his opening testimony before an irate Congress in February. “I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described.” In an op-ed in The Post earlier that month, Toyoda wrote, "We are taking responsibility for our mistakes, learning from them and acting immediately to address the concerns of consumers and independent government regulators." He went on to say, "[G]reat companies learn from their mistakes, and we know that we have to win back the trust of our customers by adhering to the very values on which that trust was first built."

Nice sentiment, but that trust will continually be violated as long as companies merely "adhere" to values rather than actually believe in the values they spend so much time and money convincing us they have, if they have them at all.

By Jonathan Capehart  | May 10, 2010; 7:14 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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While the Massey mine explosion is a tragedy it is not the worst mine disaster in US history. There have been mine explosions that have killed over 100 workers. It is fair to say it is the worst recent diasater, but not the worst.

Posted by: davidostrodka | May 10, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, today's greedy companies put the final lie to Ayn Rand's vision of enlightened self-interest among businessmen. Now if only conservatives would acknowledge that...

Posted by: 1toughlady | May 10, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Whenever government regulations discussions come up these are but three recent examples of why government regulation is extremely necessary and should be strictly enforced, when violations are found, without delay.

Posted by: rlj1 | May 10, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I guess that deregulation that ronnie raygun always preached is not such a good idea

how many people has ronnie raygun killed in the past 5 months ???

lets add the toyota deaths, the massey mine deaths, and the bp oil platform deaths together, and thank ronnie raygun for creating the conditions that killed those people

that deregulation really works, if it doesn't kill you

toyota, massey, and bp all have one thing in common; they all cut corners on safety to maximize profits

let's see how the Juries rule on these cases

at a BILLION DOLLARS a death, toyota, bp, and massey are gonna see any profits they made completely wiped out

feel sorry for massey, bp, and toyota ???

heck NO, they kill people, why would I feel sorry for them

Posted by: nada85484 | May 10, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

BP's liability may run well into the BILLIONS and force the company into bankruptcy...this must be what the RepubliKKKans/Libertarians mean about the market correcting, if only the Gulf could correct itself from this correction -- oh, wait, that's what taxpayers are supposed to do.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | May 10, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Three words that never go together: "good corporate citizen." Actually "Corporate Citizen" is an oxymoron, but 5 morons on the Supreme Court have deigned otherwise.

Posted by: mcstowy | May 11, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Three words that never go together "good corporate citizen." Actually "corporate citizen" is an oxymoron, until 5 morons on the Supreme Court legislated otherwise.

Posted by: mcstowy | May 11, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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