Rulings like this are tantamount to telling unscrupulous companies that they can get away with adulterating their products with virtual impunity. After all, if they get caught, they will only have to pay a few tens of thousands of New Taiwan dollars.
In addition, Uni-President, which had been using plasticizers in its products for more than 10 years, was able to cast itself as a victim, getting NT$73.4 million in compensation — a figure 60 times higher than that received by the consumers who had been unknowingly swallowing these plasticizers. Where is the justice or fairness in that?
The owner of Chin Kuo Wang, the company responsible for producing the plasticizers, was sent to jail for 14 months for violating the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法). Chin Tong, which sold plasticizers to Yu Shen Chemical, was fined NT$16 million and its owner sent to prison for an eight-year stretch. Yu Shen was fined NT$24 million and the husband-and-wife team that own it were given custodial sentences of 15 and 12 years respectively for fraud, in addition to being fined NT$150,000 and NT$120,000 for each year of their respective sentences.
This shows that fines measured in the tens of thousands are meted out to punish people for crimes that generate the perpetrators gains measured in the hundreds of millions. If this is not encouraging people to break the law, then what would?
The guy who laced Bullwild was handed a life sentence, but the people who made and sold plasticizers that could have damaged the health of 23 million people can look forward to enjoying their freedom after a few years behind bars.
What is the law going to do about Chang Chi and Flavor Full Food, companies that have been flogging cottonseed oil to Taiwanese and jeopardizing their fertility? Where is the accountability to the general public? Where is the sense of proportionality, if the more people whose health you put at risk, the less time you spend in jail?
The law is not bringing to bear clauses on serial crimes, or making the punishment fit the crime. Instead it is dilly-dallying on profiteering clauses in the Act Governing Food Sanitation instead of prosecuting these criminals for murder, for potentially poisoning the entire population of this country. Whose side is the law on, anyway? That of the criminals, or that of the victims?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired National Hsinchu University of Education associate professor and a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Paul Cooper