American coal and tobacco industries are killing more people each year than they employ, according to findings published in the journal Social Sciences.
The coal industry employs 51,795 Americans but is attributed to 52,015 premature deaths caused by coal-fired, electricity-based air pollution each year. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry employs just over 124,000 US workers but causes more than 0.5 million deaths via exposure to direct and second-hand smoke.
"After running the numbers, the results are shocking. Every coal mining job in the US demands literally one American life every year. For tobacco jobs, it is four times worse. The study concludes both industries warrant corporate death penalties,” explained lead researcher Joshua Pearce in a statement, adding that industries responsible for extensive harm should be determined and held accountable for their actions.
Two case studies using data from the US government were used to compare the number of people employed by each industry with the number of deaths that can be attributed to them in a given year. Pearce writes that while few companies actively seek to cause harm, profit-driven incentives can disproportionately “damage air, water, soil, and food supplies, which can result in human mortality.” Pearce argues that corporations should be tested using a standardized method for legal use to determine whether their benefits to society, such as high employment rates, outweigh the cost of human health.
"If we know that life trumps employment because you have to be alive to work, then for a company or industry to exist it must employ more people than it kills in a year," said Pearce. "What this paper has done is set the minimum bar for industry existence. Surprisingly, it also showed that there are at least two industries in America right now that are killing more people annually than they employ."
In the US, corporations have personhood – a definition that has been heavily debated and begs the question of whether corporations could also face the “death penalty.” For example, if the coal industry is indirectly killing more people than it is employing, should companies be required to cease production?
"Electricity is an essential resource that keeps society running, however, there are alternative technologies that can easily replace coal to do it – and we'd be saving lives and money," Pearce said. "If the barrier is employing those specific coal workers, we can easily retrain them and put them to work in solar and it turns out they would even earn a little more money on average."
Pearce concludes that further research is needed to provide data to “ensure industries only exist to benefit human societies.”