Americans who are unafraid to expose known dangers of certain industries are traveling with the Government Accountability Project to share their stories.
GAP speakers are participating in an American Whistleblower Tour, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are people who observe serious wrongdoing and disclose the information. One large-scale whistleblower case is that of UT alumna Sherron Watkins, who helped reveal the Enron accounting scandals.
“These people are not looking for trouble,” said Dana Gold, director of the tour. “The persecution of whistleblowers is the most extreme case of social injustice.”
Whistleblower Kenneth Kendrick spoke at a discussion hosted by the School of Social Work as part of the college’s Social Justice Week on Wednesday night. Kendrick, a former Peanut Corporation of America employee in a Plainview, Texas, plant, revealed the squalid conditions he saw to Good Morning America and the New York Times, thus bringing PCA to question. In 2009, many peanut products were recalled after people who consumed the products were contracting salmonella and dying. PCA said they were testing peanuts at their Georgia plant but were not testing in their Texas plant, and the two plants shared shipments.
Kendrick began working for the PCA in 2006 as an assistant plant manager. Kendrick said he knew the company was in trouble. The building, formerly a Jimmy Dean sausage facility, had a flooded basement which brought in rodents and a leaky roof which resulted in mixtures of rainwater and bird feces falling onto the peanuts.
Kendrick also became aware of PCA’s unethical business actions, and the branch was not registered with the Texas Department of Health. Eventually, Kendrick said he left the job.
Three years later, Kendrick noticed his granddaughter and mother-in-law becoming sick from contaminated peanut butter crackers. The crackers were receiving peanuts from PCA. Outraged, Kendrick said he began to write letters to all food inspection organizations.
“The FDA, USDA, Department of Agriculture and other groups all gave me generic responses,” Kendrick said.
A nonprofit organization committed to preventing food illnesses called Stop Foodborne Illness, formerly Safe Tables Our Priority, and GAP helped Kendrick get his story recognition. After the story broke nationally, PCA and the Texas Department of Health began to test the products.
Unfortunately, Kendrick said his life has been extremely different as a result of his whistleblowing. He now works a minimum-wage job and has been essentially blackballed from a job in West Texas, he said.
During the seminar, Kendrick reinforced the idea that everyone will face an ethical or moral dilemma at some point in their life.
“It’s a wonderful parallel to social work because it deals with the professional mandate in our code of ethics,” said Michele Rountree, associate professor at the School of Social Work. “Students now have the insight into the benefits and disadvantages of exercising the truth.”