In this lesson, you will be introduced to the 1984 chemical spill in India where up to 10,000 people died. To what extent should corporations be held accountable for their lethal mistakes?
- What is a corporation?
- What do you think is the meaning of “corporate responsibility”?
- Have you heard of any situations in which a company has been responsible for the injury or death of people in its community?
- Have there ever been any major oil or chemical spills or other environmental disasters in the area in which you live?
- Have you heard of the environmental group Greenpeace?
- What does this organization do?
- Look at a world map. Find Bhopal, India. Do you know anything about the disaster that occurred there?
- disaster: a great misfortune; a terrible situation
- pesticide: a chemical used to kill insects
- resolved: settled, decided
- abandon: leave and not plan to return
- toxic: poisonous
- contaminate: make dirty
- estimate: give an approximate number
- deformity: something that is not formed properly (ex. a part of the body)
- blame: hold someone responsible for something bad
- scope: size or extent
- rehabilitation: treatment to bring back to good condition
- ongoing: continuing
Practice these new words here: Corporate Responsibility
- December 3, 2004, marked the 20th anniversary of a disastrous chemical spill from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Up to 10,000 people died when 40 tonnes of poisonous gas leaked from the plant that night. The issue of corporate responsibility for this disaster has yet to be resolved.
- The Union Carbide plant sits empty today. Although the company declared that it cleaned up the site before abandoning it, unused pesticides and toxic wastes were left behind and continue to contaminate Bhopal’s water supply. Government officials have been responsible for cleaning up the site since 1998, but they have done little, if anything. The environmental group Greenpeace has estimated it would take over $30 million to make the area safe again.
- The people of Bhopal continue to suffer from the spill. It is estimated that more than a half million people may have become ill or died or suffered birth deformities from the effects of Bhopal’s still contaminated water supply.
- Union Carbide accepted some responsibility for the spill at first, but then blamed an angry employee for causing the disaster. After paying the government of India $470 million in 1989, it felt that its corporate responsibility had been met. However, this amount was far too little given the scope of the disaster, and the Bhopal victims have never received enough money to pay for much-needed medical treatment or rehabilitation services.
- Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide in 2001. It refused to take any responsibility for either the ongoing suffering of the people of Bhopal or for the condition of the abandoned Union Carbide plant.
- On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, environmental activists joined the people of Bhopal to demand that Dow Chemical take full corporate responsibility for the continuing horror in Bhopal.
- The disaster in Bhopal, India occurred on December 3, 1984.
- Union Carbide operated a factory that produced pesticides.
- Up to 10,000 people died when 40 tons of poisonous gas leaked from the plant. It is estimated that more than half a million people may have become ill or died or suffered birth deformities from the effects of Bhopal's still contaminated water supply.
- Union Carbide paid the government of India $470 million in 1989, however, this amount was far to little given the scope of the disaster. The people of Bhopal do not have enough to cover the costs of rehabilitation and medical treatments.
- People continue to suffer from the spill because the water supply remains contaminated.
Post Reading Questions
- Give several examples of corporations that have caused damage to the environment, to the communities in which they operate, or to individual consumers.
- List several reasons why companies may not be socially responsible.
- What are the advantages to a corporation of being socially responsible?
- Do you think that the government of India bears any responsibility for the continuing suffering of the people of Bhopal?
- Do you think that governments should do more to prevent companies from polluting or damaging the environment or society?