The thousands who took to the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities on Sunday to protest against the Iran military’s downing of a civilian aircraft and the deaths of 176 passengers obviously had not viewed the Twitter feed from one of Canada’s leading food companies.
The unfortunately misguided protesters, cut off from Twitter by the oppressive Iran internet censors, called for “Death to the Liars” who control the terror-sponsoring Iran theocracy, and “Death to the Dictator” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — as if the Iran state might be responsible for deaths.
But back in Canada, a Twitter stream from Maple Leaf Foods — usually a dozy harbour of self-promotion, declarations of carbon neutrality and cute stories about pigs and kids — lit up with claims from CEO Michael McCain that put the blame for the Iran airline deaths, not on the Iran military or government, but squarely on the “narcissist in Washington,” President Donald Trump.
I’m Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, and these are personal reflections. I am very angry, and time isn’t making me less angry. A MLF colleague of mine lost his wife and family this week to a needless, irresponsible series of events in Iran…
— Maple Leaf Foods (@MapleLeafFoods) January 13, 2020
According to McCain, whose family owns about 38 per cent of Maple Leaf Foods, the downing of the airline is the “collateral damage of this irresponsible, dangerous, ill-conceived behaviour” in Washington.
It takes a twisted feat of ideological gymnastics and deep logic-stretching to reach the conclusion that the chain of events leading up to the missile takedown of the Ukrainian passenger jet can be morally traced back to Trump and his decision to take out a murderous Iranian general.
But more about moral and causal logic later.
First there’s the corporate logic. Michael McCain, scion of the McCain potato family with an estimated net worth of $4 billion, decides to take over the corporate Twitter account to deliver a personal rant that effectively accuses the U.S. president of complicity in the deaths of 176 airline passengers.
Did McCain clear his series of tweets through the corporation’s board of directors, who are charged with overseeing CEO McCain’s activities and his relationship with all shareholders and 12,500 employees? Or did McCain simply wade into the corporate PR department, confident that his control of 38 per cent of the $800-million-a-year meat processing company gave him the right to use corporate channels to vent his personal anger over the airline deaths, which included the wife and son of one of his colleagues?
There’s also the side question of how Maple Leaf Foods might explain their CEO’s personal outburst against the U.S. president to the residents of the state of Indiana, where the company is planning a US$310-million facility to produce plant-based food products. The majority Republican and Trump-backing residents of the state voted 57 per cent for Trump in 2016 and, according to polls, he still holds majority support despite the impeachment proceedings.
In the 24 hours after McCain’s comments, the Maple Leaf Foods Twitter account exploded with reaction, pro and con, but by my assessment mostly con, including horrified reaction from Iranians. A #BoycottMapleLeafFoods hashtag emerged.
Ultimately McCain’s Twitter outburst is an extreme form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) — or, more appropriately, corporate irresponsibility. The corporate world has come to expect CEO virtue signalling on climate and social issues, mostly for political and strategic reasons, but McCain has taken using the corporate platform to promote personal opinions to a new absurd level. Even if he does control 38 per cent of the corporation, McCain has gone way beyond the norms of CEO intervention in corporate affairs.
Does Bill Morneau endorse McCain’s tweets?
Corporations routinely declare their support for victims of tragedy. A good example: In Toronto on Monday, Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, announced the creation of the ‘Canada Strong’ fund. He said it is up to everyone to ensure that families struggling with the loss of a loved one in the airline tragedy “feel Canada’s embrace.”
It is one thing for corporations to offer their support to victims of horrible events. McCain, by using a public corporation, has stepped over the boundaries of good corporate governance, even if he did state in his tweets that he was delivering “personal reflections.” Also, Paramount Foods is a totally private corporation with no public shareholders.
Another question: McCain is the cousin of the wife of Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Does Morneau endorse McCain’s tweets? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came close to agreeing with McCain. “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” he apparently told Global News.
That comes close to blaming Trump, although it’s more of a statement of the obvious. Without A there would be no B and no C. But that doesn’t mean that A is a cause of C.
McCain’s use of the words “collateral damage” is flawed. In military circles, collateral damage occurs when the immediate result of a justifiable military attack is the death of innocents. The U.S. killing of Maj. General Qassem Soleimani was a clean — and by most honest accounts — justifiable execution in which a global merchant of terror was taken out by U.S. operatives. It took place in Iraq, not Iran. No innocents were killed.
The same can be said of Iran’s response, which by all accounts was carefully measured not to inflict any casualties on the U.S. military personnel, let alone risk collateral damage to any innocents in Iraq.
To blame Trump for the death of the passengers on the Ukrainian jetliner misses the real killers in Iran — the commanders, power wielders and law officials who approved the recent 1,500 deaths of Tehran demonstrators protesting against their government. What about the hundreds of thousands of deaths, many innocent, ordered by Iran’s military?
Whether the missile strike was accidental or not is irrelevant. The real culprits in the Ukrainian airline disaster are members of the Iran government and military, who initially denied involvement.
The demonstrators in Tehran over the weekend know the truth about who caused the deaths of 176 passengers, including 57 Canadians. So should Canadians and their corporate executives.