In the United States alone in 2002, a total of 139 million workers suffered “5500 fatal work injuries, 4.4 million nonfatal injuries . . . 294,500 illnesses . . . [and] estimates suggest that occupational disease deaths exceed 55,000 per year.”The result of "isolated and unique failures of science, the government, or industry to protect the best interest of the public," the proverbial few rotten apples in the barrel?
Not even close -- the entire barrel is rotten argues David Egilman and Susanna Rankin Bohme in the current edition of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health
The theme of the issue is corporate corruption of science: how corporations influence science and the effects that influence has on environmental and occupational health.
In other words, the current economic and political system (both in the United states and in the global context) privileges corporate actors and actually provides incentives for the production of injury and disease rather than its prevention. This metaphorical barrel produces diseasebecause political, economic, regulatory, and ideological norms prioritize values of wealth and profit over human health and environmental well-beingAnd the problem, according to Egilman and friends, is not the evil employer or corrupt corporation, it's the system that's based on Milton Friedman’s 1970 directive, that “the [only] social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”
The corporation is an entity whose main purpose is to generate profit for its stockholders. The imperative to reduce costs means keeping wages low, minimizing investment in environmentally-friendly technologies, resisting regulation by the state, and failing to implement “voluntary” safety and health standards. In the global economy, the mandate to maximize profit leads corporations into a seemingly unending “race to the bottom,” where transnational corporations shop for the nations with the lowest occupational and environmental standardsWhat all this means, of course, is that corporations need to control science:
Science is important to corporations, public health professionals, and the public. It is the yardstick for measuring the health risks of corporate products and processes, and is depended upon by politicians, consumers, and workers to make decisions about what is a “reasonable” risk to citizens, to themselves, to the environment, and to society at large. Corporations have much at stake when the safety of their products is put to scientific test, and spend hundreds of billions on research each year worldwide.The authors don't just curse the bad guys, they also attempt to come up with solutions. In short they advocate a
broad agenda that has as its goal the mobilization of a populace through the articulation of concerns about corporate-funded science and the presentation of alternatives in a manner that resonates with people’s own concerns, interests, and issues.Well, I could go on an summarize the entire issue for you, but I'm tired and I'd just be enabling you to depend on me -- when, thanks to the good folks at IJOEM, you can read it all on the web yourself. Get ye there, or better yet, subscribe.
Occupational and environmental health offers an ideal platform from which to address wider social and economic inequities on a national and international basis. Many people experience first- or second-hand the serious effects of ill health. Those who are healthy can be moved by an understanding that their health or the health of their children may be at risk.
UPDATE: Slingshot has written a bit more about the report.