Sunday, June 26, 2011

CLUCK OPINION: Chickens Don't Always Come Home to Roost

One common chicken-inspired phrase "when the chickens come home to roost" suggests that, at the end of the day (eventually) one has to face the consequences of their actions. It is comfort to think that misbehavior will eventually be accounted for. But a June 25, 2011 James B. Stewart New York Times story in the Business Section makes it clear that all of them don't always come home to roost.

Stewart tells the tale of two women who did no work for Tyson Foods in Mexico, but who were each paid about $2,700 a month for years. Turns out they were the wives of veterinarians who worked at a Tyson poultry facility in Mexico and those vets certified the safety and quality of chicken products for export. They were backdoor bribes and Tyson's unbelievable response when discovered was to try to figure out how to pay the vets directly instead of stopping the payments. Eventually some of the chickens came home to roost when Tyson was charged with conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This past February Tyson admitted they had done wrong and paid a $4 million criminal penalty.

But what motivates Stewart's article is the following insight: "It would seem self-evident that if Tyson engaged in a conspiracy and violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, then someone at Tyson did so as well." Contrary to Stewart's logic, no individual was or will be charged.

The lesson seems clear enough: if backyard chicken owners break a law and are caught and concede guilt, the odds are high they will be held personally accountable.  But if a giant corporation takes a hit for bad behavior, there may be no personal accountability. Not all chickens make it back the the roost.

Read the New York Times story here.

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