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Corporate power and people power

Perspectives with Shirley Halleee

Published on July 14, 2017

We tend to think of corporations or large companies as persons, since they are made up of human beings. The CEO is a person, the board members are people, and the employees are people.  

We also might believe they are held accountable...just as an individual person is held responsible for their actions. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
The reality is that corporations are in the business of making money. Those at the head of these organizations must answer to their shareholders and to the board of directors. In some cases that becomes the priority...rather than serving the needs of their customers or considering health and safety issues for workers or their impact on the environment.
An example of less than human behaviour on the part of a large corporation took place in this province. On May 9, 1992 a methane gas explosion killed 26 miners at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia. The mine opened September, 1991. Mine workers cited company cutbacks in safety training and equipment...and noted that the recommendations that followed safety inspections were ignored. Coal Miner, Carl Guptill made safety complaints to Labour Ministry inspectors in November, 1991 and he was fired in January 1992 for making those claims.
Two mine managers went to trial for criminal charges but charges were dropped in 1998. Curragh Resources Incorporated, the parent company, had obtained provincial and federal funds to open the mine. The company went bankrupt in 1993. The remaining 117 miners were paid severance pay six years after the explosion, but only after the provincial government intervened.
If an individual person drives their car too fast and an accident resulting in death happens...that person likely will face criminal charges. Yet, large corporations are allowed to continue manufacturing insecticides known to be harmful to humans and the environment. Michael Biesecker of the Associated Press recently reported that Trump administration's the top environmental official, Scott Pruitt, met privately with the chief executive of DOW Chemical shortly before he chose to deny a petition to ban chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food...despite a review by agency scientists indicated that even a tiny amount of the chemical can interfere with brain development of fetuses and infants.
Back in Nova Scotia other debates are coming to the forefront. Dr. Mark Gibson, director of Atmospheric Forensics Research, is proposing that tires be burned to fuel the Lafarge-Holcim cement kiln in Brookfield, Nova Scotia. His group would test emissions before and after the introduction of tires as fuel. He anticipates a reduction of 30% carbon emissions for every ton of coal replaced...and a 20% reduction in smog emissions. The key word is “anticipates.” Emission tests are in the future.
Dan and Lee-Anne Chassie, owners of Halifax C&D Recycling Ltd. disagree with Dr. Gibson's proposal. Their company uses tires to make a tire-derived aggregate (TDA) which is replaces gravel in various construction applications. They point out that the use of natural gas as fuel burns 44% cleaner than coal and 38% cleaner than used tires. Their company is a family owned business, while Lafarge-Holcim is a $40 billion French multinational corporation.
It seems that Divert Nova Scotia (formerly Resource Recovery Fund Board) has allocated 350,000 tires to Lafarge, and will pay Lafarge $1.05 for each tire it burns. Large corporations have funds...which means power to influence and lobby. Small local companies have only their reputations...and the fact that the owners live in this province and have a vested interest in providing jobs and maintaining a clean environment.
It is hard to imagine the air around Brookfield would be improved with the burning of old tires.
At this time burning tires is illegal in this province. If individuals are not allowed to burn tires, one has to wonder how a large corporation might be allowed to do just that? People are the customers who use the services and products of corporations. People can speak...people can economically support a corporation...or not. People have power.

Shirley Hallee’s column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.