Where’s the Beef? DC Dumpster Fires Steal Focus from Tainted Meat

The endless reality television drama that is Washington is pushing news headlines alerting us of real danger down below the fold. Lost in the revelation-per-minute scandals recently was news of a major Brazilian federal police investigation into tainted and adulterated meat that was being exported by Brazil’s largest meat processors. While the United States gets only a small fraction of meat imports from Brazil this could have become a widespread human tragedy if it had gone unrecognized. Among the places that purchased this unsanitary product were schools and retail chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

When dishonest practices happen on such a large scale, I have to wonder what workplace conditions were like that made corruption—in this case bribing government officials to loosen regulations—possible. What was it about the culture of JBS (the world’s largest beef exporter) and BRF (the world’s largest poultry exporter) that would enable such behavior as mixing healthy meat with tainted product, chemicals and/or foreign matter? Clearly there was a culture of fear that kept insiders from revealing what they knew or sharing that information with a superior who would be motivated to stop the practices.

From my experience working with embattled companies, I find when this happens, no amount of classes, awareness seminars, pleas for employee communication or morale building makes any difference. Bad practices are built into this sort of culture and cannot be changed. The only way to save the company is to dismantle it and rebuild it into a culture that has transparency built in from the foundation.

Based on the reported decline in export revenues, it’s all too likely that not just the country’s reputation but the economy of Brazil has been severely damaged. I have to wonder if the beef industry will recover from this scandal.

This is all too reminiscent of the ongoing tragedy in Flint, MI or the banking debacles at Wells Fargo and TD Bank. Leaders need to wake up and realize that they must create a workplace culture that allows employees to report devious and dangerous practices without fear of reprisal. It’s only by enabling workers to resist bad practices that C-suite executives can sleep soundly at night.

Photo credit: Reuters