Apology too little too late
XL Foods has failed a crucial test of ethical behaviour
By: Sharon Ryan
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 13, 2012 06:00 am
I am embarrassed that XL Foods has taken so long to issue an apology for lapses causing 12 people to become seriously ill with E. coli poisoning. Why am I embarrassed for a company’s blatant lack of responsiveness to 12 sick people and their families, 2,220 slaughterhouse workers who have lost work and pay, and thousand of cattle ranchers financially hurt as a result of their mistake?
Apologies contain acknowledgement for hurting another human being. Apologies are a moral obligation and, for serious transgressions, apologies are non-negotiable. We all know that corporations put themselves into a legally precarious position by admitting wrongdoing but research shows that two simple words – “I’m sorry” – have been shown to reduce the number and severity of malpractice law suits and to reduce the severity of all other types of litigation.
XL Foods’ silence was deafening and I yearned to hear someone from upper management come out of the freezer and acknowledge that sanitary lapses have caused people to become terribly sick. I am embarrassed simply as a member of the human race to know that other humans can be so callous and simply ignore this suffering.
So I wish to apologize on behalf of XL Foods for the delayed apology to the 12 people who found themselves doubled-over in pain for days not knowing if they would live or die and unable to urinate, eat, or even sleep because their stomachs were cramped and their bowels ran their own waste from their fragile bodies in uncontrollable fits of painful release while the rest of their bodies were drenched in the sweat of a damp, low-grade fever while their parched throat gagged in dryness with their abdominal muscles aching from the pain of ceaseless vomiting day after day and into the nights while family members struggled to get them into their cars so they could drive them to the local emergency ward where they undoubtedly waited for hours for someone to take them seriously, all the while missing work and losing income while the children wondered if their sick parent would ever make it home again.
Even Tiger Woods was able to step up and apologize for his poor performance at the Ryder Cup. Daryl Katz did it, Apple did it, and now I’m going to do it on behalf of XL Foods for illustrative purposes because maybe their delay was because they had writers' block. It's not hard to do. These apologies have four basic components: acknowledgement, remorse, reparation, and reform. So here goes:
Dear sufferers of E. coli poisoning:
[Acknowledgement] XL Foods wish to apologize for supplying retail stores with meat containing E. coli. We understand this meat has caused you to contract E. coli poisoning.
[Remorse] We are very sorry that you have suffered from the terrible effects of this poisoning.
[Reparation] XL Foods is addressing the loss you have suffered and will be contacting your family to discuss just compensation.
[Reform] To our customers, we want you to know that we have determined the cause of the poisoning and have committed ourselves to ensure it never happens again.
XL Foods’ apology came too late. The delay will lessen the chances that any of the victims will forgive the company for its negligence. In fact, forgiveness is one of the only things in life that can only be given and never be taken. But we are living in a new Age of Apology, which started after the numerous Wall Street fiascos, and corporations need to adapt.
The only embarrassing apology is an absent one or a very late one. Businesses that harm customers will have to face the music one way or the other because they carry a responsibility to enhance social wellbeing as well as to maximize profit.
Business leaders need to realize that there’s a new girl in town and her name is Apology. Best to get to know her before she leaves your company doubled over in cramps with no image left with which to earn your revenue.
Sharon Ryan lives in St. Albert and teaches ethics for UCLA Extension.