Strange legal fights, old and new

This article is rather curious. It describes how Wal-Mart is fighting a small fine levied for health and safety breaches at a store after shoppers trampled a worker to death in 2008.

The New York times reports that:

“In May 2009, OSHA accused Wal-Mart of failing to provide a place of employment that was “free from recognized hazards.” Specifically, the agency said the company violated its “general duty” to employees by failing to take adequate steps to protect them from a situation that was “likely to cause death or serious physical harm” because of “crowd surge or crowd trampling.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, says that regulators are trying to enforce a vague standard of protection when there was no previous OSHA or retail industry guidance on how to prevent what it views as an “unforeseeable incident.”

The company appears concerned about the precedent accepting the fine might set.

This long-drawn out legal fight reminds me of another, in the UK many years ago, as detailed in the below article looking back on the now-famous “McLibel” case, between McDonald’s and two ethically-minded activists.

Wal-Mart’s much praised environmental work does not mean that it’s changed much on social issues. Such cases as that above, and particularly the one detailed below, demonstrate that these can become a reputational millstone around the corporate neck.

This is something Wal-Mart might want to bear in mind.

This article above is part of our series looking at classic cases of corporate (ir) responsibility and is from our latest print and online edition. More details on what else is published this month are here.

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