Do you think that profits ever become more important than human life and safety? What are some possible examples from the chapter? Can you think of others?
There are two ways to interpret this question. On the one hand, it might be asking whether companies ever treat profits as if they are more important than human life or safety. On the other hand, it might be asking if profits ever truly are more important that human life or safety. The answer can be very different depending on how you interpret the question.
If we are asking whether businesses ever think that profits are more important than human life or safety, the answer is clearly yes. There are many examples that we can think of where businesses were willing to put profit first. Perhaps the clearest example in recent times has been the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh in the spring of 2013. Clearly, the company that built the building cared more about profits. Clearly also, the western garment companies that employed people in the building did not care enough about human life to check into the conditions in which their products were being made. Another example would be the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas in May of 2013. Again, it would appear that the company did not have enough safety precautions in place (though the cause of the fire is not yet known). Thus, we can clearly see that there are many times when businesses are willing to put profits first.
If we ask whether profit should be more important than human life or safety, the question becomes harder to answer. In a sense, it seems obvious that profit should not be more important. We would never say that any amount of money can compensate for the untimely death of a loved one. It is likely that it would be hard to say that money could truly compensate a worker who, for example, lost an arm or an eye in an accident. In this way, we would tend to say that profit should never be more important than human life or safety. But do we really think this? Would we be willing to shut down every type of economic activity that might lead to a human death or serious injury? Or are we willing to accept some amount of death and injury in return for profits and for convenience? If we truly think that profit can never be more important than human life, for example, we would require companies to build products that could not ever lead to someone’s death. This would probably, for example, mean that we would have to give up the use of cars. We would have to give up the use of most machinery since machinery can lead to the death of workers. It is not clear that this would be a good thing for society to do.
Thus, this is a very difficult question. It seems that life should be more important than profit, but it is not clear that we could or should really give up all economic activity that could lead to death or injury.