September 4, 2017

1970. Ralph Nader's Crusade for Corporate Responsibility

Nader's Environmental Campaign
"Ralph Nader standing on on an overpass above Interstate 495, a beltway circling Washington, DC, in 1967" (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

May 20, 1970

A New York businessman once told me that when the history of American industry is written it will be recorded that the biggest single mistake ever made by corporate engagement was when General Motors hired a private detective to tail Ralph Nader. More on this in just one moment...

It was back in 1966 when General Motors hired a private eye to case Ralph Nader. That was when Nader was attacking GM's Corvair automobile as a menace on the highways. When the full story of the world's largest corporation's attempt to quash Nader's one-man safety crusade was revealed in Senate hearings, it made the young reformer an American folk hero almost overnight.

Nader did not only rock Detroit's automakers; corporate boards of all other US industries shudder at the mention of his name. For like The Shadow, only Nader knows where he'll strike next.

That is except for this Friday in Detroit when the General Motors corporation holds its annual stockholders meeting.

It seems that over the past couple of years, like many Americans, Ralph Nader generated an interest in ecology—including air pollution. Next to the automobile, which is responsible for some sixty percent of atmospheric poisoning, the manufacturing and power industries are the major polluters.

And being the biggest and richest of all, Nader figured GM, which he already is fighting, would be the ripest target in yet another crusade for corporate responsibility. A group of young Washington lawyers agreed and set up Campaign GM to gather proxies from universities, pension funds, churches, and anywhere else to put pressure on General Motors management.

It is not an effort to bring down the corporation, which they could not do anyway, but to make the giant industry responsive to public demands for safer and cleaner transportation, antipollution manufacturing processes, and to change the direction of US industry generally from strictly a dollar profit machine toward more social goals of improving the quality of life in America.

Nader's Raiders, who already are assembling in Detroit for Friday's stockholder meeting, do not know how many proxies will support them. But they already are claiming victory. The US public is watching, and more importantly General Motors and the auto industry are beginning to listen.

This is Bill Downs in Washington for American Information Reports with another look at man's environment.