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The Ugly Orphan
2002-11-20 10:03:35


The Corporate Fuck
 
But then again I wasn't dripping in blood. Well, not a lot.
-- Flesh

 

As I write this, an oil tanker containing 20 million gallons, less the roughly 2 million gallons that have already leaked out, has broken in half and sunk off the coast of Spain. There are numerous reports as to the ownership of the vessel as well as its "inspection" record in various sketchy ports of call. The ship's owners are quick to defend themselves against potential liability, Spain is jousting with Portugal over who's going to pay for the cleanup, and there are already the usual wildlife casualties of any such toxic disaster. But one thing is conspicuously missing from this whole scenario: The oil's real owner.

If some faction with strained tangential links to Osama bin Laden or Al Quaeda (is that this week's spelling of it?) had stormed the bridge and demanded that the ship be rerouted to Cypress or the Palestinian Territories, the oil's rightful owners would be howling bloody hell to the U.S. State Department for Navy SEAL intervention and summary execution of those responsible for the "hijacking." As is usually the case when things go wrong with oil and energy, those deep pockets who could be held accountable for the cleanup costs and damage to relevant countrysides are nowhere to be found. Apparently the notion of corporate accountability is still a lesson unlearned by multinational companies. You've got to hand it to corporate officers and directors. Without them, it would be impossible to believe that such highly educated people from the world's top universities could be so tragically (and criminally) stupid.

Maybe it's the company's insurer that is causing all the headaches. Who calls the shots in an instance like this? Is it the oil company which will bear the brunt of a public relations nightmare revolving around its inaction and irresponsibility? Probably not. They're already ducking and covering behind their insurers, who will ultimately pay the price tag for whatever claims arise. Being an ex-lawyer, I can already see the legal machinations afoot in the press releases being fed to the international media. "Well, the ship was recently inspected between Dubai and China, and the whole thing is really the Spanish government's fault for keeping the ship so far out at sea anyhow." This is rudimentary liability-insulation language aimed at sending blame in every direction but the point of origin, the stock-in-trade of insurance defense attorneys. And, excuse me, aren't tankers supposed to be at sea and capable of enduring storms thereon?

Whoever the owner of the oil turns out to be, one thing is certain. They will join a long list of incompetent corporate fools who fail to realize that a substantial percentage of consumers will stop buying their product because of this disaster and the company's lack of responsibility in it. The harder the company fights, the more money they ultimately lose. A fine illustration of this is all the people who stopped buying Exxon (now ExxonMobile) gasoline after that company blighted the Alaskan coastline in 1989. Consumers are creatures of habit and once they get in the habit of avoidance they tend to stick with a new supplier. Hence, ExxonMobile's struggling figures since 1989. A similar fate awaits those whose oil was being shipped aboard the doomed tanker. The longer they wait, the more people will get incensed that their beaches are now off-limits. Spaniards and Basque are known for living large and loving all the finer things in life, like beaches, seafood, romance, and a great party. Having most of their coastline reeking of oil and tar for the next decade will not go over well. Spanish/Basque vengeance is not to be underestimated, either.

I hope that vengeance is as far-flung and terrifying as the vision of Inigo Montoya's indefatigable rage tracking down his father's murderer. Once again an oil company has defiled miles of pristine natural resources by maximizing profits through the use of inadequate equipment and incompetent personnel. No one, including the Spanish government, seems too interested in which company is responsible for the cargo. Perhaps it's fear of alienating a politically profitable ally, perhaps the insurance company's lawyers are doing a stellar job of obfuscating the real issues at hand. Regardless, the tragedy remains the same: a lifetime's worth of ruin for a pickup truck's load of money. For such atrocious evil, several corporate heads should roll down the quaint cobblestone streets of four or five Spanish and Basque coastal towns that are older than Columbus' dream of East Indian profiteering.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

laredo@pigdog.org


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