Silkwood - Business Ethics and Whistle-blowing
Being a classic whistle-blowing movie based on the true story of Karen
Silkwood (played by Meryl Streep)
Silkwood (pictured right) mysteriously died in a car crash on November 13 1974,
whilst investigating plutonium exposure to herself and other employees at
the Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma, USA, which makes plutonium rods for
nuclear power stations.
The company never admitted liability, although the Supreme Court ruled against it.
Other whistle-blowing movies...
- Serpico (1973) about
the New York policeman, Frank Serpico (played by Al Pacino), who exposed the corruption
of his fellow officers.
- Erin Brockovich (2000) about a successful lawsuit, led by Erin Brockovich (Julia
Roberts), against a polluting energy plant.
- Michael Clayton (2007) - Clayton (George Clooney, pictured right) helps blow the
whistle on U-North, who knowingly sold a carcinogenic weed killer.
Early 1970’s Oklahoma, USA.
Mike Nichols (pictured right, also director of The Graduate).
Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), nuclear energy plant employee (pictured right).
Dolly Pelliker (Cher), her lesbian friend.
Drew Stephens (Kurt Russell), her boyfriend.
Karen Silkwood shares a house with her:
- boyfriend (Drew Stephens)
- lesbian friend (Dolly Pelliker).
(pictured right together)
- makes plutonium rods for nuclear reactors (pictured right below).
- helps the union fight falling safety standards (especially when she and several other
employees become contaminated with radiation).
- becomes obsessed with gathering evidence against the company (forcing Drew to move
Angela (a funeral parlour beautician) moves in as Dolly’s lover.
- contacts a New York Times reporter (when she has enough evidence).
- is killed in a car crash before they can meet.
No other car is involved, and it is left open to question whether her death was deliberate or
Lessons for business ethics
1. Look after your employees
Falling safety standards lead to:
- employee exposure to radiation.
2. People before profit
People’s lives are more important than profit.
3. Fight for
Karen is determined to prove the company’s negligence, despite facing intense opposition and danger.
The suspicious circumstances of her car accident show how perilous her position was.
Key quote on death
They all look as though they died before they were dead, Angela (on deceased employees at
Karen’s workplace suffering from radiation)
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)