Saturday, July 23, 2005

"Invisible Hand" Often Flips the Bird

What happened in Bhopal?

Someone asked me the other about what happened in Bhopal, India back in 1984; when Union Carbide let a chemical plant fall into such disrepair that they poisoned thousands of people when water leaked into a chemical storage tank, causing an explosive reaction. Around 4,000 people died within hours; but thousands more would eventually die from long-term effects of the poisoning.

Rightfully, this tragedy was a huge "embarrassment" for the US chemical industry and the US government. Out of curiosity, I googled to see what had happened to that infamous plant, expecting some kind of grand memorial to stand in place of the razed factory. US businessmen never accept blame, but they'll usually throw up a park or something to assuage their guilt.

Expectedly, there is an official corporate spin site on the disaster, which pathetically chronicles the first offer Union Carbide submitted in court to pay a city of poisoned people: $5 million. Less than one quarter of profit for the chemical giant.

Fortunately for the victims, the case moved out of US courts to the Indian legal system and eventually a judgement of $470 million was paid in 1991. As far as Union Carbide (and now Dow, which bought Union Carbide in 1999) was concerned, the entire sordid affair was now over.

So over, in fact, they left the abandoned factory filled with toxic wastes and posions. They were not even willing to safely raze the place, let alone clean up the contaminated ground water throughout the area. This is the libertarian and neoconservative dream, unfettered capitalism in action.

I love capitalism, but I also love clean drinking water, overtime pay, safe working conditions, and.. oh yeah.. my freakin' LIFE. If you want to see what the Cheney administration views as ideal free trade, industry regulation, and environmental protection; see Bhopal. This is how corporations behave when those burdensome regulations are lifted.

Here's a tour of the place today.

"In 1991, the local government in Bhopal charged Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s CEO at the time of the disaster, with manslaughter. If tried in India and convicted, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison. However Mr. Anderson has never stood trial before an Indian court; he has, instead, evaded an international arrest warrant and a summons to appear before a US court. For years Mr. Anderson’s whereabouts were unknown, and it wasn’t until August of 2002 that Greenpeace found him, living a life of luxury in the Hamptons. Neither the American nor the Indian government seem interested in disturbing him with an extradition, despite the recent scandals over corporate crime. This is unfortunate: Mr. Anderson’s decisions didn’t just wipe out retirement plans, they killed people."

No comments: