January 25, 2005

The End of Corporate History?

Jordan Barab points to the disturbing tale of historians and peer reviewers subpoenaed for writing about the history of corporate pollution in an effort to avoid liability for their unapolagetic poisoning of the environment and public health. It should go without saying that if this legal action is successful, it will have a chilling effect not only on academic publishing but on investigative journalism as it relates to corporate activities, whistleblowing, public protest, or any other attempt to hold corporations to account for antisocial behavior.

The book that started the fuss is called Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, and Barab previews it for us:

...The book deals with a number of issues, but the chapters of most interest to the companies are those that extensively document how the chemical industry spent years covering up and lying about the hazards of vinyl chloride, a widely used chemical known to cause cancer. Most of the documents that Rosner and Markowitz uncovered came as a product of the discovery process by a local attorney, Billy Baggett Jr., who was working with the widow of a former chemcal plant worker who had died of angiosarcoma of the liver -- a rare cancer linked to vinyl chloride exposure. (The documents can be viewed here.)

I have spent a great deal of my career attempting to build coalitions between environmentalists and workers. One of the arguments we always used to encourage environmental organization to support worker struggles was the fact that most environmental pollutants start out in the workplace before they hit the general public. And the health effects are generally first seen in in workers, society's canaries. ...

It's time that irresponsible corporations be forced to publicly answer the question that strikes dread in the heart of every politician: What did they know, and when did they know it?

Posted by natasha at January 25, 2005 08:36 PM | Activism | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

This is like the torture scandal! Even if the Bush administration or Congress doesn't 'order' the misbehavior, the actors rapidly sense the permissive environment and start playing very dirty tricks indeed. These companies must think it enormously unlikely a Bush DOJ will censure them for 'torturing' our laws to harass citizens and suppress information. Thanks for sharing this, I'd not known about Confined Space before.

Posted by: Patrick at January 26, 2005 04:22 AM

Protecting the polluters is the real goal of "tort reform." The fact that medical malpractice suits are cited almost exclusively is a smoke screen.

Posted by: James E. Powell at January 26, 2005 01:20 PM