In 1984, a small town in India experienced the deadliest environmental disaster in history, when an explosion at a Union Carbide chemical factory in Bhopal sent 27 tons of methyl isocyanate gas into the slums. 22,000 people died as a result. Twenty-six years later, locals are still affected by birth defects and disease.
On Monday, Indian courts sentenced eight Union Carbide officials – all from India – to two years imprisonment. Affected families and environmentalists expressed outrage at the sentencing, described as "absurdly light" by the Indian press. Warren Anderson, the Chairman of Union Carbide at the time, fled the country and has since avoided extradition.
How does this relate to the BP disaster? Apples to oranges, some might say. But there are some scary parallels that speak volumes about corporate responsibility and the road to justice.
Union Carbide leaders were warned that the technology being used at the factory in Bhopal was unproven and could lead to disaster. When it happened, Union Carbide officials denied the severity of the situation.
BP was warned many times that disregarding safety and environmental rules could lead to a serious accident. After the disaster, BP CEO Tony Hayward downplayed how bad it was.
Corporations exist to maximize profits, so cutting corners on safety is a constant temptation. When disasters happen, governments must demand full compensation for those affected (as President Obama has), and impose meaningful sanctions on guilty parties.
The Bhopal verdict is a good example of how not to discourage corporate negligence. Let's hope our government learns from it.
(via The Nation)
Photo: The Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. (Harish Tyagi/EPA)