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The film, Erin Brockovich, is a 2000 trailer that is based on a true story. It features Erin Brockovich, one of the protagonists and environmentalist who successfully fights for Hinkley residents rights after PG&E Corporation, the largest employer in the region polluted the environment by contaminating underground water by chromium VI. Despite being highly determined and passionately pursuing an honorable course to ensure Hinkley residents get justice from PG&E Corporation for damages it caused them, some of Erin’s actions are questionable and unethical if examined through ethical lens. She constantly uses vulgar language, and she humiliates and disrespects other people in the film. Numerous ethical issues also characterize PG&E Corporation, but the most profound one is polluting the environment and lying to Hinkley residents that chromium VI has no health effects on their body if taken while in water, and despite existing evidence shows to the contrary. The current paper borrows widely from deontological, virtue ethics, and consequentialism theories to explore some of the ethical issues in the film.
Erin’s actions, as portrayed in the film, are honorable, but some of her practices are questionable and not morally upright. Erin is depicted in the film as someone whose character is questionable due to being rude or insolent. Throughout the film, she is depicted using vulgar language, and she humiliates and disrespects other people who are left shocked beyond words. From an ethical or moral perspective, people are expected to be polite and treat others with respect and ought to avoid using the language that can irritate, humiliate, or embarrass them. In other words, an ethical person is supposed to possess ideal character traits, values, or virtues that are derived from the natural internal tendencies, but which ought to be nurtured. In relation to the movie, there are numerous instances when Erin uses a language that is vulgar, obscene, and does not reflect ideal character traits. For example, when she is asked by the PG&E Corporation lawyers how she managed to convince 634 plaintiffs to sign the document so that they can file a suit against the company for polluting underground water by chromium XI, Erin retorts by stating that she had to perform 634 blowjobs in five days to be able to convince them. Besides, she also humiliates the PG&E advocates by telling her that she has two wrong foot and ugly shoes. Lastly, when her boss requests her two to wear decently while in the workplace, she states that ‘as long as I have one ass, instead of two, I will wearing what like if that is okay with you”. Therefore, Erin’s practices relating to the use of abusive language is unethical because it deviates from socially accepted moral standards.
The main ethical concern in the case relating to PG&E Corporation is the pollution of underground water by chromium VI. The company was aware of possible repercussions, but it decided not to discuss the issue with Hinkley residents. By borrowing from deontological and consequential theories, the PG&E Corporation act was unethical. According to consequentialism theory, an act is considered to be morally right if it produces good outcomes or results. The PG&E decision to use chromium VI to prevent its pipes from being corroded or rusting had significant health impacts on the Hinkley’s residents. It caused numerous diseases that range from a nose bleed, stomach problems, cancers, hysterectomy, and spine problems. The water even made chicken get paralyzed such that they could not move anymore. The company’s act did have not only severe consequences on the current generation but also the future one. Since the impacts of using chromium VI were severe, it, therefore, be concluded that the PG&E acts were highly unethical because it exposed the Hinkley’s residents to the health problem. The issue can also be analyzed from a deontological perspective that holds that an act is considered to be morally right if one acts based on laid down rules as opposed to consequences. PG&E Corporation is expected to comply with EPA, federal, and state laws and regulations that prohibit the companies from polluting the environment. Erin managed to get a document that revealed that PG&E Corporation had been issued with an abatement order in 1966 that required it to that required to clean up the groundwater it had polluted. From a deontological perspective, the company violated environmental laws by causing pollution, and it, therefore, acted unethically.
The 700 Hinkley victims who were affected by the PG&E Corporation’s unethical acts that involved pollution of underground water did not get justice through a class action. Even if the residents were compensated with $320 million for the company’s decision, they did not get justice because the company continued to pollute the environment. PG&E Corporation and the Hinkley residents’ representatives (Erin and Masley, among others) agreed to settle the matter out of court via class action, and one of the conditions was that the final decision that was to be reached was final and could not be appealed. PG&E Corporation only paid compensation to the plaintiff, but it did not make the organization to stop polluting the environment underground water, which was a significant concern of the case. The victims did not, therefore, realize justice.
The class action is characterized by many ethical advantages such as taking far much little time than it would have been the case if the case was settled through a court process and the victims, therefore, have a chance to realize justice. The court processes take a long time to be fully settled, and the victims might fail to realize justice since some of them might not die before the court makes a ruling, and there is a possibility of appeals being lodged, which even results in more time being spent. Besides, the litigation costs also tend to be lower, and the plaintiffs tend to pool resources, and those who might not have filed the charges due to lack of resources get an opportunity to do so. For the Hinkley residents, the plaintiffs received a compensation of $320 million, which was split among them uniformly. However, the class action settlement is also disadvantageous because the plaintiffs’ input is not considered, but that of their representatives and a final decision might, therefore, fail to serve plaintiffs’ best interests. In the case of Hinkley residents, the negation was done between PG&E Corporation advocates and Erin and counselor E. Masley who advocated for class action, and yet the plaintiffs preferred the court process. Besides, the class action is also considered to be disadvantageous because the final decision that is reached is binding on both parties, and seeking other compensation is problematic. The PG&E Corporation and Hinkley residents decided to settle the case through a class action, and both parties agreed that the decision that will be reached would be final.
The responsibility of corporations such as regarding natural environment and local communities can be defined as an engagement in practices that contribute no emission or which do not cause any form of pollution to the environment within which it operates or impacts the local communities negatively. In other words, corporations have moral obligations to engage in sustainable practices that conserve the environment and avoid those that result in its degradation and impact the community negatively, like in the case of PG&E Corporation and Hinkley residents. The corporations ought to act ethically by utilizing the resources sustainably to avoid causing social, economic, and negative implications that endanger the lives of the residents and future generations.
Conforming to laws and regulations is not enough because the companies have an obligation to ensure that they cause the least harm to the environment and local communities. The precautionary principle of environmental management states that organizations should take precautions to protect the environment even when there is no conclusive scientific evidence that shows that the company’s activities cause environmental damage. Besides, the polluter pay principle requires the company to pay the price to the extent to which they have polluted the environment. Whereas the levels beyond which emissions are not allowed might be relatively higher, organizations should put effort into reducing the pollution far below the legally recognized levels. PG$&E corporation argued that no scientific evidence shows that chromium VI is linked to health risks when in water, but based on precautionary principle and polluter pay principle, it ought to have taken precautions to reduce chromium VI levels in the water to the lowest possible level even when no law requires it to do or evidence lacks.
The paper has examined some of the ethical issues that are reflected in the film Erin Brockovich. Erin acts are honorable due to her courage and sacrifice to fight for Hinkley residents’ rights, but some of her practices are unethical because of using vulgar language and disrespecting and humiliating other people. PG&E Corporation’s main ethical concern is deliberately polluting underground water in Hinkley, thereby causing a lot of health problems on residents. The class action that was used to settle the case did not help the residents to get justice since the company only paid $320 million for damages it caused the residents, but it stops its practices. Companies ought to do more than conforming to laws in order to reduce environmental damage.
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