It's beyond disheartening to see that 20 years after the Bhopal disaster, Dow (after buying Union Carbide in 2001) has still done nothing but token gestures to properly compensate victims or clean up the area of what is humanity's worst industrial disaster.
Bhopal is a clear case of industrial negligence. Lethally toxic gases leaked from understaffed and under-maintained plant killing 20,000 people, injuring over 500,000 and leaving over 100,000 people chronically ill. The safety systems designed to prevent such a disaster had been consciously shut down in order to save money. Today, the polluted site of the abandoned factory bleeds poisons into the grounds leading to high infant mortality rates and elevated levels of cancer and poisoning related illnesses in the area around Bhopal. And there is even a third generation of victims : the children of parents born after the disaster suffering from life threatening birth defects and abnormalities. Adding to the already shameful inventory of victims suffering from acute breathlessness, brain damage, immuno-deficient illnesses, cancer and TB. Groundwater in Bhopal has become heavily contaminated as well, further toxifying the environment and causing a long term problem stretching into the unforeseeable future.
In the West, we are fairly protected from events like these by the fact we have a strong whistle-blower ethic, heavily protected rights and efficient and comparatively quick courts and effective laws in protecting our safety. Firms which have been found to be putting profits ahead of consumer safety and covering things up (to say nothing of actively contributing to such a disaster) have been punished in civil court and suffered enormous loss of reputations where it's been demonstrated that there was wilful disregard and negligence. Still though, some days it seems that the needle is tipping in favour of corporations lately with their unbelievable ability to put money and personnel behind lobbying government and law-makers to limit their liabilities and otherwise unfairly protect their interests against the public.
It has made me have radical thoughts mulling over, not just how to make amends for what happened at Bhopal, but in making sure that companies are seriously punished for cutting corners and negligently causing loss of human life.
One thing that was pointed out in the excellent documentary The Corporation was that really the only difference between a normal business and a corporation is the fact that it is basically identified as a legal individual. It has the rights of a legal person.
Yet, for some reason, a corporation is never struck with the same responsibilities we would expect of any sane and reasonable individual. In fact, even with obvious criminal intent by executives in wilfully deceiving or negligently pursuing business practices which are dangerous or even fatal, it is not only very difficult to approach them in civil courts but expensive to the point that it is only the recent advent of class action suits that has allowed them to be brought to any form of justice. And while these suits may in fact (and note that many corporations are lobbying for limitations in punitive fines in these cases) allow some people to find satisfaction at the hands of a few companies in financial means, many firms never admit culpability or negligence.
If an individual causes a criminal act though, the government charges, prosecutes and if found guilty, incarcerates, fines and in some cases even terminates the lives of persons. Why do we not have a criminal code for corporations ? If they are legal individuals, how difficult would it be to have a criminal code for the heinous acts perpetrated by companies that wilfully and criminally neglect the public good ?
I'm not saying that every single sin of a corporation needs to be addressed, but it's clear that in some heinous cases like major fraud, negligent environmental devastation, loss of human life and other situations, corporations need to be held accountable wherever they are operating. Now, we are getting into the situation where corporations simply export labour and questionable practices to countries where they cannot be prosecuted for what would be crimes in their originating nations.
If people are going to re-establish some sort of equilibrium over what has become the dominant institution on the planet and re-assert some form of democratic ownership over their fates it's clear that something needs to be done to reward corporations which act within the bounds of the public good to make profit and serve the public over those that put short term gain ahead of the safety, welfare and lives of people.
On this anniversary of such a terrible travesty of justice that still remains unaddressed by those responsible, please support the work of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and others that are supporting relief, justice and compensation for the continuing victims of the tragedy. Keep in mind, Dow is shirking both its moral responsibilities and its legal ones in these cases, tying up compensation claims found against it and continuing to avoid costs surrounding cleaning and fixing problems. Dow continues to lie and spin its way around this problem and managed to avoid responsibilities in India without ever being held accountable to the victims of Bhopal or their representatives.