The Bhopal disaster is the most damaging industrial disaster in the global history. The event that led to the death of about 7,000 and 10,000 people within a few days and subsequent deaths of about 25,000 people has raised ethical debates of the person who should assume the responsibilities of cleaning up the toxins from the environment and compensating the victims, who continue to experience devastating effects of the tragic event. Union Carbide was the Indian company responsible for the disaster when it occurred and has since compensated a few victims. However, Dow Company acquired the Union Carbide Indian Limited, but has since refused to take responsibilities for the liabilities of the former company at Bhopal India. This report investigates the ethical liability of the Dow Company, and concludes that the latter should adhere to the international successor liability and polluter pays principles, which the Indian and American governments both adhere to them.
The Bhopal Disaster
The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, occurred on the nights between 2nd and 3rd December 1984. This tragic event, which has since been considered the world’s worst industrial disaster, took place in India. In this event, a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked methyl isocyante gas alongside other chemicals, thereby creating a thick toxic cloud over the regions surrounding the pipelines, leading to the death of about 8,000 people in just s a few days. However, since the occurrence of this tragic event, more than 20,000 people have lost their lives in Bhopal, India (Drop Dow Now, 2012). People woke up in the mornings of 3rd December 1984 to fits of coughing and their lungs filled with fluid. Most of the initial and subsequent deaths following the spill of about 40 tons of methyl isocyante gas resulted from cardiac and respiratory arrests.
The chemical factory, which was involved in this tragic disaster, belonged to Union Carbide. In 1989, about five years following the event, the company negotiated a settlement with the Indian government for a compensation of $470 million, which was just about between $370 and $533 for every victim affected by the disaster. This amount, however, was significantly less to settle the bills of the victims. A warrant was issued in 1992 for the arrest of Union Carbide’s chief executive officer, Warren Anderson, following the charges of 1987 by a Bhopal court for offenses including grievous assault, culpable homicide alongside other serious offenses.
Seventeen years after the disaster, Dow Chemical Company entered a purchase agreement with the Union Carbide Corporation. The Dow Chemical Company has been operational in the new acquisition since 2001, and has since faced ethical challenges, with many special interest groups seeking for justice for more than 20,000 people living within the vicinity (Drop Dow Now, 2012). However, Dow Chemical Company since its merger with the former company has refused to assume the liabilities of the Union Carbide Corporation in India. There are claims that the new company has even refuse to clean up the toxic poisons that remained behind following the tragic disaster. The population still living within the factory’s vicinity are very many and are still exposed to the toxic chemicals through soil contamination and groundwater. More and more people continue to suffer the consequences of the tragic disaster. Some of the most common infections related to the disaster include cancer and constant exhaustion. Even most of the people who were not present during the occurrence of the event continue to suffer these consequences such as birth defects. Additionally, ailments such as rashes, aches and pains, fevers, headaches, nausea, eruption of boils, lack of appetite, and dizziness, are some of the severe consequences that people along the company vicinity continue to face in their everyday life.
The Dow Company Challenges History
Initially popular for apparently benevolent products, which included the Saran food wrap, the Dow Chemical Company later indulged in several criminal and ethical wars for its role in the production of napalm and Agent Orange for the United States troops in Vietnam. Doxin, refusal to assume any responsibility upon the acquisition of the Union Carbide in 2001, and defective breast implants made by its Dow Corning joint Venture further put the company in further controversies. The problems that have faced the company can be categorized under several categories.
On the human rights front, the company was a prime target of the antiwar movement during the 1960s and at the commencement of the 1970s for its role in the production of the napalm and Agent Orange, which the United States troops used in Vietnam. Millions of Vietnamese suffered from the effects of the toxins including the 20 million gallons of Agent Orange sprayed on the country and the napalm bombs during and many years after the war. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) later filed a lawsuit in 2004 against the Dow Company, which was later dismissed in the following year and later upheld in 2007 (Mattera, 2013). Most of the cases involving the company and the United States were settled out of court.
The environmental issues have been the most prevalent concerns surrounding the company’s operations. Even though environmental pollution was not used during the company’s operations in the Midland, Michigan, the company’s operations from their commencements have been environmentally unfriendly. Apart from the deaths caused from the use of Agent orange during the Vietnam War, vegetations were also destroyed form the deposits of Agent Orange. The deforestations caused due to the company’s activities also led to the destruction upset in the ecological balance in many areas as well as ongoing contamination of the soil and water. These controversial complaints of environmental degradation raised concerns since the Dow Chemical Company refused to clean up the Doxin deposits, even several years after their operations.
Product safety and occupational safety and health are also major concerns that the company has since faced in its operations. During the 1980s, the Dow Corning Joint Venture faced several lawsuits that women had filed with claims that they had developed autoimmune aliments that resulted from silicone leakages from breast implants. The United Food and Drugs Administration conducted an audit and realized that the implants had been rushed to the market without complete safety tests. This led to the abandonment of the implants business in 1992. The company had realized that the employees exposed to benzene and epichlorohydrin suffered genetic damages. However, the company chose to conceal this information from the employees. Several lawsuits have however been filed and compensated in the subsequent years about injuries and damages to the employees of the company.
However, the Bhopal tragedy seems to be the latest ethical test that the Dow Chemical Company is currently experiencing. Nevertheless, the company indicated in a statement regarding the Bhopal tragedy that, while it has no responsibility for Bhopal, they have never forgotten the tragic event, and have helped to drive the global industry performance improvements (Dow Chemicals Company). They indicate that the Responsible Care was created for this purpose, and that these standards are essential for the protection of the company’s employees and the communities within which they live and work. The company seeks to practice responsible care everywhere they do business all over the world. Even so, the ethical considerations surrounding the company regarding the Bhopal tragedy have resounded in many forums, with interest groups including the public echoing voices seeking redress.
Johnson, however, indicates in his book that the pressing issue of organizational ethics has seen several organizations forgo ethics in exchange of material benefits related to business deals, career, and money among several other related benefits. He indicates that most organizations do not understand the benefits of ethical practice in business. Many organizations have succumbed to making unethical decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas. Making the right or wrong decisions influence business performance as it relates to public acceptance of the company. Dow Chemicals Company is not an exception to these ethical dilemmas. As earlier indicated in this essay, the company has faced several ethical concerns, leading to mostly wrong decision, including the Bhopal, Indian ethical dilemma.
How Dow Chemical Can End the Bhopal Tragedy
The Bhopal tragedy has however been unearthed following the Dow Chemical Company’s involvement in the sponsorship role of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. These Olympic Games, which were seen to leave a legacy of environmental responsibility, was jeopardized by the involvement of the Dow Chemical Company’s sponsorship. Anti-green washing campaigns and protests were triggered by the relationship between the Dow Chemical Company, Bhopal, and the Olympic sustainability. For more than three decades, all the companies that were involved and the Indian government have continuously refused responsibility of for the 1984 Bhopal disaster. Form the economic view, the Union Carbide India Limited cannot bear the responsibility of the tragic disaster since the company had been closed and is no longer existent (Pino, Kannel, & Gardner, 2012). Nevertheless, the victims and the communities living within the company’s vicinity continue to suffer the consequences of the tragedy as different stakeholders play the blame game. After conducting an in depth analysis, the Dow Chemical Company should be the one responsible for bearing the responsibilities for the tragedy.
Both the United States and the Indian governments adhere to the polluter pays principle, which asserts that the producer of the pollution must pay for the consequences of its production. In this case, Union Carbide India Limited was the polluter. However, the continued existence of the problems related the gas spill in Bhopal indicate that the company did not fulfill this principle obligations. The company further failed to fulfill the lease agreements with the Indian government to return the site to its original condition after the gas spill. On the other hand, the Union Carbide India Limited owned the plant in 1984 during the tragic accident. However, the plant was later sold out during a 1994 auction. After several business agreements between different companies, Dow acquired the Union Carbide in 2001. Consequently, the Dow Chemicals Company assumed the responsibilities of the former company, and Union Carbide operated not as a standalone, but as a component of eh Dow Chemicals Company.
While referring to the international law, the principle of successor liability infers that, the Dow Chemicals Company gains both the assets and liabilities of the former company. For instance, after the purchase of the Union Carbide, the Dow Company Limited assumed the responsibilities and liabilities for the asbestos liabilities from an incident that occurred in 1972, thereby setting aside about $2 billion in resolving the issue. Inferably, the Dow Chemicals Company is conscious of the successor liability, but seems to neglect the Bhopal issue with intent. Additionally, since the Union Carbide India Limited had accepted liability in the past and partly paid the compensation to the victims, the Dow Chemicals, formerly Union Carbide India Limited should continue ensuring that the victims get their compensations and that the environment is cleared of the existing toxins.
The Ethical Perspective
Even though the Dow Chemicals Company might bring about conflicting arguments and debates about assuming responsibility for the activities carried out by the Union Carbide, it is greatly unethical to continue operations in the environment and neglect the victims of the tragedy. The ethical codes of conduct provide that every person engaging in any form of business should consider the welfare of the people and the environment surrounding their area of operations. The 1984 tragedy led to unprecedented events that have since affected the lives and health of people living within the vicinity. Some of these effects are so gross that they seem to affect even more generations at Bhopal. Dow Company should implement the ethical decision-making and action that Johnson proposes in his book (Johnson, 2011). The company should therefore fulfill the original contractual and lease agreement signed between the Indian government and the Union Carbide India Limited to return the area to its original condition. This would be the only ethical and economic conduct relating to the international principles of successor liability and polluter pays.
Dow Chemicals Company. Dow Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.dow.com/company/aboutdow/ethics.htm
Drop Dow Now. (2012). The London Olympics need to drop Dow Chemical as a sponsor. Justice for Bhopal: Dow’s Toxic Legacy in Bhopal. Retrieved from http://dropdownow.org/2012/05/07/dows-toxic-legacy/
Johnson E. C. (2011). Organizational Ethics: A Practical Approach. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.
Mattera P. (December 19, 2013). Dow Chemical: Corporate Rap Sheet. Corporate Research Project. Retrieved from http://www.corp-research.org/dowchemical
Pino I., Kannel C., & Gardner T. (July 27, 2012). How Dow Chemical Can End the Bhopal Tragedy. The Motley Fool. Retrieved from http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/07/27/how-dow-chemical-can-end-the-bhopal-tragedy.aspx