CPR Scholars Support 'Hide no Harm' Bill to Hold Corporate Officers Accountable for Negligence

by Erin Kesler

July 15, 2014

New legislation introduced by Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) and co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would ensure that corporate executives who knowingly market life-threatening products or continue unsafe business practices are held criminally responsible when people die or are injured.  

Under the Hide No Harm Act, key corporate managers will be required by law to report serious dangers to relevant government agencies, employees and affected members of the public.

CPR Member Scholars wrote in support of the bill to Senators in a letter last month.

According to the letter:

The recent General Motors (GM) ignition switch scandal vividly illustrates the catastrophic consequences that can result when corporations fail to disclose the known dangers associated with their harmful business activities.   The now highly profitable auto manufacturer—$3.8 billion last year alone—determined that the estimated $2.3-million-fix for the problem ($0.90 fix for 2.6 million cars total) was just too costly to undertake.  Instead, GM concealed the problem for more than a decade as part a concerted campaign that included repeatedly lying to its customers, the media, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency charged with overseeing car safety.  All the while, GM’s customers continued to climb into cars that the company knew were not safe.  GM admits that 13 people died in crashes caused by the faulty switch.

Similar to GM, other companies appear to have prioritized profits ahead of public wellbeing in this manner.  The available evidence indicates that in 2007 and 2008 Peanut Corporation of America knew its peanut paste had tested positive for salmonella, but shipped it out anyway, ultimately killing 9 and sickening 714.   Similarly, government-led investigations suggest that the New England Compounding Center—the compounding pharmacy that sold fungal-contaminated medication leading to the 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened at least 751 others in 20 states—knew that it was not taking adequate precautions to ensure that the drugs it produced and packaged were safe.

It is within Congress’s power to ensure that corporations are properly held accountable for putting the public at unnecessary risk by failing to disclose the dangers of the business activities.  As morally reprehensible as this behavior is, corporations face strong economic incentives to leave their customers and workers in the dark.  Too many corporations will continue to act according to those incentives, unless Congress enacts some form of legislation that makes the costs of not warning the public too great to ignore.

The letter concludes:

If enacted, this bill would strongly discourage most companies from taking unreasonable risks with the lives and safety of their customers and workers.  For those scofflaw companies who decide to keep the public in the dark anyway, the bill would provide a critical avenue for obtaining some measure of justice for those who harmed or killed as a result of those companies’ failure to warn.

We urge that you make it a top priority to enact legislation that would address the ongoing crisis of corporations failing to disclose to the public the dangers associated with their business activities, and in particular consider Senator Blumenthal’s Hide No Harm Act.

 

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Also from Erin Kesler

Erin Kesler was a Communications Specialist for the Center for Progressive Reform.

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