The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is now famously known for making seriously contaminated products, killing 9 since September 2008 and sickening almost 700 others.

You all know that. What you may not know is that PCA was inspected by the leading certifying agency in the food industry on multiple occasions and was given glowing reviews.

Here is what the Washington Post reports:

David Mackay, Kellogg's chief executive, said his company trusted
audits performed by the American Institute of Baking International, the
biggest food-inspection firm in the country. The institute conducted
scheduled inspections of PCA's facilities and never flagged serious
problems. It issued a "certificate of achievement" and a "superior"
rating last August, when PCA was getting results from internal
laboratory tests that revealed a salmonella problem in its plant in
Blakely, Ga., congressional investigators said.

Many well-known companies (including Kellogg) trusted outside food auditing firms to test the ingredients they were sourcing for their own products. Others, like Nestle, sent their own auditors and rejected PCA products after finding rat droppings, beetles, and other detritus in PCA's products.

Not surprisingly, PCA paid American Institute of Baking International to perform the audits (AND to certify PCA as in compliance).

Lessons Learned

  1. When a company pays an auditor, the auditor may have incentive to be lenient.
  2. When a company relies on outside inspectors to assess other entities, they may not get good information.
  3. When an industry fails to provide good oversight and regulation, bad things can happen.
  4. Just because something is certified, even by the largest or most prestigious certifying body in an industry, doesn't mean the certification can be trusted.
  5. It's not just about good people, it's also about good structures, oversight, and information.

Is this Relevant in the Training & Development, Learning & Performance Field?

Yes. You bet. We have:

  1. Awards that are biased toward those paying award application fees.
  2. Top 10 and Top 20 lists that represent the awarding entity's client list.
  3. Industry research based on surveys sent to the research entity's clients' client lists.
  4. Industry research that is biased toward the research entity's biggest clients.
  5. Conference sessions that are guaranteed for companies who pay for exhibit space.
  6. Webinars by sponsoring organizations.
  7. Etc.

Unfortunately, there is no trusted journalistic institution in our field. Our trade organizations are timid because commercial interests pay the bulk of their operating expenses. Most of our bloggers (me included) are timid because we earn our living in the field. Where the hell are the freelance bloggers who our social-media evangelists promised would rise up to fight corruption and injustice?

Best Advice in Current State

The best advice at this point in time is:

  1. Be skeptical.
  2. Do your own digging. 
  3. Form groups of other skeptical diggers and share information.
  4. Don't just get angry about this. It's the way the world works. Find work arounds.
  5. If you can't point fingers, gently avoid the corrupters.
  6. If you're entangled with a corrupting entity, gently work to reform it, or leave it.
  7. If you are a corrupter, forgive yourself, reform yourself.
  8. Do good work.