Profits vs people

I remember being in my early teens, and seeing a tv show about car seatbelts, and how the manufacturers of the car decided not to put extra seatbelts in the pop-up seats in the boot because it was too expensive. Yes, there was a risk of a passenger in these seats being seriously hurt or killed if they were in an accident, and, even more importantly of course, there was a risk of said passenger’s family suing the company. But this risk was taken into account, and the cost of paying off the bereaved was judged to be less than putting in these seatbelts.

Profit vs people: Profit wins.

A few years ago, in my twenties, I saw another programme about capitalism, and about how it was actually illegal for a corporation not to maximise its profits. That was in America; I don’t know if that was just America, or the UK too, or some kind of world wide rule of business. This meant that a whole array of businesses which were highlighted on the programme were looking at ways of keeping salaries down (at least, salaries waaay down the ladder), using lower quality goods and cheaper ingredients. This includes things like HFCS, GMO crops, etc, and was in spite of the fact that there was mounting evidence that the health values of these ingredients were, shall we say, dubious. And did I mention lower salaries? Zero hours contracts also spring to mind these days.

Profit vs people: Profit wins.

And now, today, people have been killed and dozens more injured in a huge fire in London. I don’t know how many people have lost their homes in Grenfell Tower. And residents have been raising concerns about this block for years. Last year, Labour put forward an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill to compel landlords to keep rented homes fit for human habitation, removing the previous clause which specified “homes where the annual rent is £52 or less (or £80 in London)” which had been in place since the 19th century. It was defeated by the Conservative government, by a majority of 93, of which 72 were private landlords.

That tower had new cladding to make it look nicer for the nearby luxury apartments which, it seems, may well have contributed to the terrifyingly fast blaze, no central fire alarm system (neighbours were waking each other up), and no sprinkler system. Any large shop now you expect to have a sprinkler system; after all, we want to minimise damage to stock and risk to profits, don’t we?

Profit vs people: Profit wins.

But there’s a ray of light. People whose homes were on fire didn’t rush straight out, they knocked on their neighbour’s door to alert them. Firefighters are at this moment still going through an incredibly dangerous, burning, building to rescue whoever they can. People have been pouring donations of money, clothes, toys, food all day to community centres and churches – I saw the church my parents were married in, St Francis of Assisi, having to turn donations away as there were so many. People are full of love and light and you see it most at times like this.

People win.

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