Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Gulf oil "spill" and corporate responsibility

"Spill"? how about "uncontrolled hemorrhage"?

In trying to come to terms with the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I have found only one article that really stands out. Don't let any prejudice against The New York Times keep you from reading this one. Joe Nocera, who writes and talks about business for the Times as well as NPR, has dug up some information about past leaks which cast a whole new light on BP's conduct.

Human lives or business profits? How do we balance the two? Many people in South Louisiana are scared to death of a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling because so many people's livelihoods are dependent on it. Pastors and preachers are not in a position to give expert opinions on this matter, but the ongoing dilemma of profits vs. safe and humane working conditions extends from the East Coast to the West, North to South as we ponder migrant workers, underpaid domestic help, illegal immigrants, and a hundred other varieties of exploited workers. I always think of a woman I read about several years ago who went to Mass every morning but did not care about the genuine grievances of the workers on her farm.

It is not stupid or naive to raise questions about corporate culture. It is quite possible to instill respect for workers on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder when the top leaders insist on it. See for instance Max de Pree, devout Christian, former chairman of Herman Miller, and his books Leadership Is an Art and Leadership Jazz. My husband heard Trammell Crow, the Texas real estate tycoon, speak about this. Crow said that in order to be truly successful as the head of a business, you had to have everybody in the company rooting for you, not just the top people that you see every day. You have to have the workers in the mail room and the janitors and the men on the oil rig rooting for you--not worrying that their health and even their lives are in danger because of your neglect. This is just as true of a parish church as it is of a huge corporation. If the secretary and the sexton feel exploited and mistreated, the whole enterprise is in doubt.

I doubt if any preachers will make the sins of BP the centerpiece of a sermon. I wouldn't do so myself. But what a trenchant sermon illustration of the issues that Christians must be concerned about!

Here's the link to the Joe Nocera article: