The Corporate Wolves Turn On Each Other

In reality, the timber wolf, closely related and ancestral to the domestic dog, is a noble creature of excellent character, attacking and killing only when hungry or threatened. In that light, it seems insulting to compare greedy corporations to such fine members of the animal world. Nonetheless, it was the ancient Roman playwright Plautus who made the comparison, focusing on the predatory nature of wolves when he wrote the words “homo homini lupus,” or “Man is a wolf to Man.” Indeed, humankind is unique among creatures in that it is the only species that routinely preys on members of its own kind. Corporations have long preyed on ordinary people; the marketing of asbestos products over seventy years conducted with full knowledge of its toxicity is a prime example of typical corporate behavior. In the case of asbestos, the birds came home to roost in the late 1970s when the corporate cover-up was exposed. Suddenly, there was a metaphorical tidal wave of litigation over asbestos-caused diseases by individuals who contracted them.

This litigation has cost industry billions of dollars; at least one company in every U.S. industry has been a named defendant in an asbestos action at some point over the past three decades. An interesting twist occurred a few years ago when these corporate wolves began to attack each other over asbestos issues. In 2002, Kelly-Moore Paint, itself a frequent defendant in asbestos litigation, and Hamilton Materials, Inc. sued Union Carbide and its parent company, Dow Chemical, for a combined total of $1.6 billion on grounds that the defendants conspired to conceal the dangers of an asbestos product added to its products. The product in question was known as Calidria. This was used as a thickening agent, which Union Carbide sold to many manufacturers between 1963 and 1985. Dow incurred this liability when it acquired Union Carbide in the 1990s. For two years, Dow spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would deny asbestos victims the right to sue. Such lobbying continues, despite the impending passage of the Ban Asbestos in America Act. Meanwhile, 10,000 Americans continue to die each year from asbestos poisoning – more than three times the number of people who died in the World Trade Center in 2001.