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Wolverine World Wide is the site of a Crime Scene: Environmental contamination, disposable workers and influence peddling

October 24, 2017

Environmental contamination from corporate plants and factories are referred to as “externalities” by economists. Essentially, what they mean is that this is a real consequence and a real cost, but it is external to what corporations do. In fact, corporations most often do not factor in the cost or the need to be responsible for waste or contamination.

Look at the case of Wolverine World Wide. For decades they knew about the contamination of ground water from their tannery and the chemicals used in the process, but have never really been held accountable for the environmental disaster they have caused.

WOOD TV 8 did an investigative story recently and found that there was a complaint about contamination from Wolverine as early as 1959. MLive reporter Garret Ellison has produced several good stories in recent weeks that makes it clear that the company has knowingly been engaged in environmental contamination for decades.

In an interview with a Wolverine World Wide VP, the MLive reporter takes the bureaucrat to task over their lack of transparency and accountability. 

Q: State records indicate tannery waste was dumped at the State Disposal Landfill (a Superfund site) on the East Beltline. When I asked, Wolverine said ‘we don’t have records of that.’ Does Wolverine not have complete waste disposal records?

A: “I think we’re aware of what has been said, what has been printed. I think we continue to do research. We’re back-checking against what our own records are. And again, our focus right now, the time that we’ve devoted to this, and our attention right now is really working to resolve the House Street issue. And in finding a short-term solution for the residents there. And then obviously, working towards a longer-term solution. We are looking at our own internal records on what our disposal practices were over the past five decades.”

In another article published on Saturday, the MLive reporter also investigates the fact that the Bolder Creek Golf Club sits on top of 12 acres of toxic waste that Wolverine World Wide is responsible for. 

For decades the EPA knew about these dynamics. In 2012, the EPA held meetings with residents of Rockford to discuss the contamination, but stated that they needed to do more studies before they could make a serious conclusions. This meeting was held only because residents had filed a formal complaint, according to an article in the Rockford Squire

At this point it is important for all of us to ask ourselves, will any executives from Wolverine World Wide go to jail? If any one of us knowingly polluted a river or lake and were caught for it, we would likely go to jail or to prison. However, a succession of Wolverine executives have knowingly polluted large areas of Rockford and possibly the Grand River and it is likely that none of them will ever spend a day in prison. If justice was actually unbiased, the headquarters of Wolverine World Wide should be labeled as a crime scene.

Disposable Workers

The environmental contamination that Wolverine World Wide has perpetrated is not the only criminal behavior they have engaged in. Hundreds of workers have been disposed of, much like the toxic waste that the company has tossed about the landscape of Rockford.

During the years after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, the company disposed of several hundred workers, according to data from the Department of Labor

In more recent years, Wolverine World Wide disposed of workers when they close plants. In 2009, 450 workers were disposed of when the company shut down one of its tanneries. In 2013, another 90 workers were disposed of as part of the company’s restructuring.  On Saturday, the company announced – in the midst of their environmental crimes – that they would be moving their Rockford-based distribution facility to California, thus disposing of another 50 workers.

Influence Peddling and CEO Salaries

Wolverine World Wide is no stranger to influencing public policy at the local, state and federal level. According to OpenSecrets.org, the company has spent on average over $100,000 lobbying Congress to get favorable policies around trade and corporate accountability.

The CEO of Wolverine World Wide, Blake Krueger, is also a significant contributor to political candidates, as a means of buying influence at the state level, particularly with the GOP. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, the Wolverine CEO contributed $49,500 to the GOP. Krueger has continued to contribute big money to the GOP since 2012 and specifically has contributed directly to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s campaigns.

Then there is the issue of Blake Krueger’s salary and total compensation package, which in 2016, was valued just under $7.8 million a year.

If Wolverine was a crime scene

Let us put on our political imagination hats for a moment and think about what would happen to Wolverine World Wide if we lived in a world where justice was served.

  • Wolverine World Wide would have to pay for all the testing of water for residents and businesses in the area.
  • Wolverine World Wide would have to pay for any water and soil contamination clean up costs.
  • Wolverine World Wide would have to pay for any medical or health costs for residents in the area, because of the environmental contamination they have caused.
  • Wolverine World Wide should pay reparations to the residents impacted from the environmental contamination and the workers they have disposed of over the years.
  • Wolverine Executives and major shareholders should be tried for corporate crimes and serve time for the harm they have caused to countless people in the Rockford community.
  • What is left of the company should be turned over to workers and allow them to run it, equally sharing the profits from their labor.

Now, I know that these suggestions are considered by some to be unachievable. However, if we never exercise our political imaginations, we will never create a vision for the world we want to live in and then make that vision a reality.

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