Lactalis: totally irresponsible, just like capitalism

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
15 January 2018

After a number of babies in France and throughout the world were contaminated by milk with salmonella, the CEO of Lactalis apologized, promised compensation for the victims and swore that there was “no deficiency” in his company. And we should feel reassured?

Back in August, Lactalis already knew about the presence of salmonellae in its Craon plant. They hid this knowledge from the authorities. And, while the number of sick babies grew, they held back on recalling their products. And this isn’t deficiency?

The government and media insisted on how Lactalis is shrouded in secrecy, thus implying that the scandal had developed in an exceptional situation caused by a bizarre director.

The CEO of Lactalis, contrary to many others, doesn’t even pretend that the workings of his group are transparent. He has always preferred to pay a fine rather than publish the annual accounts. Until a week ago, no one had ever heard of Emmanuel Besnier, the eighth largest fortune in France, who inherited and now runs Lactalis.

This man dominates the milk products business. The annual sales of his multinational dairy conglomerate are 17 billion euros. There are 246 Lactalis production plants in 47 countries employing 75,000 people. He is the owner of many of the best-known milk product brands in France). Like a number of billionaires, he keeps his life a secret.

Other capitalist groups may well follow the rules for submitting their annual accounts and they may have CEOs who are public relations experts but that doesn’t mean that their business is an open book or that their behavior is more responsible.

This is yet another scandal that is not an aberration occurring in one isolated capitalist group. It also questions the accountability of the large retailers who continued to sell the products that should have been taken off the shelves. They cared more for their year-end sales figures than they did for the health of infants. Above all, it’s the latest scandal in a long series that includes mad cow disease, the rigged car engines of Volkswagen, Renault and Peugot, the deadly Médiator drug and PIP mammary implants.

The capitalist system is totally irresponsible. Profit is its holy grail and profitability its only religion. To hide this, everything is kept secret.

All capitalist groups cultivate secrecy. There are manufacturing secrets, financial secrets, business secrets. Union representatives are bound over to secrecy even when they attend works’ council meetings. Workers who witness health violations in the plant where they work are threatened with dismissal if they reveal them.

Top management teams justify this secrecy by the need to protect their business from competitors. But it’s a smokescreen. It prevents workers from seeing how much profit is made from their exploitation and it prevents suppliers from seeing the margins that the major companies and banks make at their expense. The tax authorities are duped and the consumer is misled.

This secrecy runs counter to the interests of the community. And what does the state do? It gives us fine-sounding words about transparency and lowers the number of sanitary checks. The Lactalis scandal shows quite clearly that the state has chosen not to increase health checks and controls in plants but to reduce their number, leaving companies to make their own checks!

The president and his ministers boast about their actions all over the globe as if they were about to change the world but they can’t even control what’s happening in a French flagship of the food industry or ensure food safety.

They can’t control what goes on inside companies because they don’t want to. By reducing the number of inspectors in fraud control, fiscal control and work inspection, the government is giving free rein to company owners

The capitalist system is irresponsible. The only way to make its leaders harmless would be to empower workers, consumers and the population in general to carry out controls.

Workers are in the best position to raise the alarm because they can easily monitor and expose what the directors are doing. And the workers are also the ones who know best how the job should be done!

For the sake of society as a whole and in the interest of the workers, it’s time to challenge the sacrosanct respect for private property and expose company secrecy for what it is.