Scotts new corporate policy
Scotts Miracle-Gro, the Marysville, Ohio company that brought us the 500 pound tomato, is the largest employer in their fine city. With a population of less than 16,000 people, employees of Scotts have little alternative of working anywhere else. They also have been relegated much less control over their lives and personal choices. Scotts Miracle-Gro announced in early 2006, that any worker who smoked would be fired – period. Workers have less than one year to comply or they will be terminated.

James Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts was quoted in an email as saying “Our efforts are about saving lives. I, along with the management of the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, care deeply about the health and well-being of our associates and their families. We want them to lead long, healthy and happy lives. "

A touching sentiment
It at first touched our hearts to see such a caring CEO, one who, even with millions of dollars at his personal disposal, took the time to consider the health and well being of his worker bees and with the superior intelligence that a truly good manager possesses, would take the bold step of dictating the personal habits of those lesser than himself. But then we began mulling the announcement over a bit more. Was Scotts self sacrifice truly an effort to improve the life and well being of its employees or was there more to it than that?

While the Scott CEO was spouting heart-wrenching sentiments about the well-being of his employees, the Scotts company representatives were explaining the decision in another light. You see, Scotts pays for its own medical claims and forcing employees to stop smoking would cut their medical costs and improve their bottom line. The decision to terminate anyone who refused to quit smoking makes sense in that light – fires smokers, save money, more money in the pockets of the company and their managers. In response to Scotts’ announcement, a Miracle-Gro consumer sent an angry letter to Scotts in which he announced that he would no longer use Scotts’ products. He received this response from Scotts’ Consumer Service representative, Erin Benton:

I am sorry to hear that you will no longer be using our products. It certainly was not the intent of our company to alienate our customers. Our primary motivation for doing this is an effort to control escalating health care costs while improving the long-term quality of life for our associates.
You may not be aware, but the smoking policy is only one component of a significant investment we are making in improving our associates health. These include free doctor care, access to a low cost fitness facility, access to dieticians, free generic prescription drugs, and of course, free smoking cessation programs.
I certainly hope you will reconsider your decision to use our products. Our goal is simply to improve our associate’s health and reduce health care costs.
Erin Benton
Consultant, Consumer Service
The Scotts Company and Subsidiaries
14111 Scottslawn Road
Marysville, OH 43041

We can only presume that following this reasoning, Scotts, and other American companies such as Michigan based Weyco, who implemented this same “stop smoking or be fired” policy in 2005, will take a similar approach to ensure health costs are reduced and hence, their company profits increased.

What’s next?
Following this line of thinking, workers with a body mass index greater than 30 should be required to sustain a strict exercise regime (since it has been proven that lack of exercise has an even greater negative effect on a person’s health than smoking). The diets of employees should be carefully relegated and monitored by their employers – any person deviating from the company dictated diet will be summarily terminated. Other unhealthy habits such as the amount of time wasted playing video games and sitting sedentary while watching television, should be specified at the corporate level and rigidly enforced. If you are caught driving too fast, running a red light, or talking on a cell phone while driving, all of which introduce additional risks and statistically reduce your normal expected lifetime – immediate termination. As CEO James Hagedorn candidly stated in reply to a recent newspaper article, “As the leader of the Scotts family and a human being, I take these [risks] seriously. How can I stand idly by as our associates are slowly killing themselves while I have the ability to challenge that behavior?”

The smoker’s stigma
Certainly we have created a stigma around smokers that has resulted in unfair discriminatory practices aimed towards them. Nobody would disagree that smokers can be an irritant to others who do not smoke – but there’s no logical reason why smokers cannot choose to do as they please without infringing on the rights of others. And there is certainly no doubt that there are many other “habits” which could merit this same sort of draconian corporate control. Policies such as Scotts will certainly make us healthier but they will not make us freer.

Scotts’ conclusion, like most decisions made by corporate heads, is based solely on improving the bottom line and increasing profits (which almost always bypass the employees who generate those profits). In Scotts’ instance, the company chose to infer that the decision was made for marketable reasons – they cared about the people that worked for them and felt that they had the right to dictate what was best for them. In Scotts’ case, as it turns out, this was an ironic stance to take.

Ugly facts about Scotts Miracle-Gro
Scotts’ stance that employee’s health was a concern runs counter to the fact that Scotts produces fertilizers and herbicides that poison the environment and taint water supplies. In 2002, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency showed that alarming levels of pesticides and herbicides had been oozing from Scott’s landfills and waste lagoons and contaminating the Ohio drinking water supply. Other allegations included reports of one company landfill containing two weed killers that are part of the ingredients used in Agent Orange (used in Vietnam to strip plants of leaves and linked to cancer in troops).

In 2001, the Dispatch ran an investigative series where they revealed that vermiculite contaminated with tremolite, a rare form of asbestos, contributed to the deaths of at least five Scotts’ employees. They had inhaled the asbestos fibers while handling the vermiculite, an ore Scotts used in the production of potting soil and fertilizer. A former Scotts employee described the deplorable conditions at the plant as a “dust bowl”.

And as a final ironic blow, the type of waft that often rears its ugly head in corporate scandals, a high-level tobacco industry executive is actually closely affiliated with Scotts Miracle-Gro. Lynn J. Beasley, president and chief operation officer of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, sits on the Scotts board of directors. His term expires in January 2006, coincidentally the same month that Scotts new “quit smoking or be fired” plan was introduced to the public.

Some likened Scotts’ antics to the policies decreed by sea captains of ancient lore. Management of merchant sea ships, such as Captain Cook, had life and death control over their crew. Captain Cook would at times force his crew to drink orange juice in order to prevent scurvy while at other times would refuse to carry the citrus in order to cut transportation costs. The fact remains, our constitution does not grant life and death liberty over its citizens, to heads of large corporations.

It stands to reason that just like a rancher will keep his animals healthy until it is time for them to be slaughtered, a corporate owner will only maintain the employee’s health until he no longer has any need for them. Thank you Scotts, for demonstrating such care and compassion for your employees.