Imperial Sugar Off the Hook

A few years ago a sugar refinery owned by Imperial Sugar of Savannah, Georgia, exploded. Fifteen people were killed and dozens were injured, some severely. The explosion was the direct result of a corporate refusal to obey safety rules designed to avoid just this kind of event. OSHA, over a single 2-year period, hit Imperial Sugar with over 200 Notices of Violation. Corporate management ignored them. After all, we all know OSHA is just a busybody nitpicker that gives corporations a hard time for no reason. They know what they’re doing. They don’t have to listen to some liberal government pinhead whine about how they should have done this irrelevant action instead of that one.

That’s how – and why – 15 people died.

There have been a raft of “investigations”, including one by the district USA Edward Tarver into potential criminal charges. Given the abundant evidence of malfeasance on the part of corporate executives, this should have been a slam dunk. It turned out, though, that corporations can get away with anything in 21st century America, including murder.

The company was the target of investigations by a trio of federal agencies — the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, OSHA and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms — that resulted in findings of dozens of “willful” safety violations and a $6 million fine in 2010 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said was the largest ever levied to that point.

Only one potential government sanction remained and that was removed Tuesday when U.S. Attorney Edward J. Tarver announced his office would not seek criminal charges against the company or its executives for the carnage that ensued that night.

“There was insufficient evidence of intentional disregard or plain indifference to the requirements of OSHA’s general housekeeping standards to charge Imperial Sugar with a criminal violation,” Tarver said in a release.

How he reached that conclusion despite the acres of evidence and a whistleblower to the contrary may be explained in the usual way – protection of a local corporate power (and donor?) – but Tarver offers what sounds like a potentially honest alternative reason: the weakness of Congressionally devised labor laws.

Tarver also said the decision not to pursue a prosecution of Imperial or any of its executives was based in the lack of federal criminal laws “specifically addressed to the safety of workers within the sugar industry at the time of the Imperial Sugar explosion.”

It’s an interesting argument though it smacks immediately of buck-passing. It could be true given what conservative governments – Pubs and Dems both – have happily done to de-ball labor laws for the last 40 years. Anybody know?

True or not, the one thing that stands out is that, just like with the bankers who deliberately destroyed our economy to fill their own pockets and did so by breaking so many laws it would take an abacus to count them, after all Imperial’s illegal activities and the 15 people who died as a direct result of their disinterest in keeping them alive, nobody is going to go to jail behind this.


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