September 16, 2014 – How big corporations can exploit the poor
While attending the Toronto International Film Festival last week, I was lucky enough to watch a film which told the story of how a baby formula manufactured by a large global company contributed to the death of tens of thousands of babies in 1994.
The central character in the film who, after securing a “dream” job as a sales representative and who built a market for the product by providing free samples to doctors and nurses, discovered that the formula, when diluted with unclean water, created a deadly result by causing the babies to have extreme cases of diarrhea leading to death by dehydration and other illnesses. After bringing the issue to the attention of management at the corporation, who refused to do anything about the problem and denying any responsibility, he brought the matter to the attention of the World Heath Organization which lead to him receiving death threats and shots fired at his house resulting in the lead character having to flee Pakistan for his own safety.
Sadly in economically challenged countries, mothers cannot afford to provide their babies with full strength formula and have little choice but to dilute it with what is often unclean water which caused the high incidence of death.
Taking on large multinational interests is not an easy thing to do. It often requires deep pockets that many individuals, and even well funded non-profit organizations, are unable to compete with.
It was somewhat ironical that only 24 hours after watching the movie, a couple in Oregon opened a package of baby yogurt which they were about to feed to their infant two year old daughter when they discovered the contents were filled with maggots. The brand in question was related to the same corporation which was the subject matter of the film. For the horrific experience which the family suffered, they were given a generous check in the amount of $50 with a commitment that the rest of the shipment would be pulled from the shelves! One has to wonder if the baby had eaten the yogurt before the maggots were discovered and suffered any illness, would the manufacturer have offered perhaps a token more in compensation?
There is no doubt that in today’s society, the ability for an individual to take on large corporations has become almost an exercise in futility unless you can find enough people who have suffered the same plight which may allow a law firm to file a class action lawsuit where the firm will take on the litigation on a contingent basis and where they may share up to 40% of any judgment awarded against the defendant. It is extremely challenging when large corporations have the ability to engage teams of lawyers to slow the process of due process down to a “snail’s crawl” making the cost prohibitive for most people to pursue. Despite support from various consumer protection agencies, these kinds of actions continue to be an uphill battle.
In the case of the allegations concerning the multi-national corporation described above and the baby formula in Pakistan, whether or not there is actual liability or not on the part of the manufacturer, when it became evident that thousands of children were dying, you would hope that the corporation would take steps to mitigate what is clearly a horrendous situation?
In recent times, we have sadly had to witness the loss of innocent children caused by fighting in different countries around the world. Do we also have to witness the loss of life from the use of a manufactured product which could have been avoided? I accept the fact that large corporations employ large numbers of people and that the cost of having to stop or suspend the manufacture of a product may result in some people losing their jobs but surely on balance, this is a better result than thousands of more children dying at the same time? Perhaps instead of spending millions of dollars in trying to defend these actions, some of these corporations might spend the money in researching ways of how to modify the product so that the consequences may not cause the same loss of life.
I do not know enough about all of the facts surrounding the subject matter of the film to determine whether or not Nestle is guilty as alleged in the film but one thing is clear. Certainly the manufacturer did not deny knowledge of the babies dying and at least, according to the film, seemed to be aware that it was in large part because of a dilution of their product with unclean water, which is all that was available to many of the mothers who were using the product. In trying to do some limited research on the subject, I could not find any information on the Internet that would suggest that the manufacturer chose to do anything about it. At least on this basis, the facts seem to speak for themselves!
(Photos of children taken in Cuba – August 2014)