It has now been twenty years since the release of chemicals at a Union Carbide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal killed thousands of people, and today I heard that Dow (which took over Union Carbide three years ago) has announced an multi billion aid package.
With all the anti-American and anti-big business stuff in the media it is hard to get at the facts of the case. But the following are the facts as I understand them. If I am mistaken I am open to correction. I have no great love for the business model of ownerless corporations (or rather enterprises where most of the shares are owed by institutions), but some counter balance to the tide of abuse in the media seems to be in order.
Union Carbide built the plant because of the taxes on imports then in place in India, it did not build the plant in order to avoid following American safety standards of production.
Due to the regulations of the “Permit Raj” the plant was under the control of an Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide and the American parent company had little control over day to day operation of the plant.
The local State government went back on promises not to allow people to squat near to the plant – this may have increased casualties.
A Union Carbide investigation of the terrible incident reported that it may have been caused by sabotage and that the person responsible for the sabotage may have been a local employee (not an American at all).
Union Carbide paid, in full, the damages awarded by an Indian court.
Union Carbide officials have tried to avoid visiting the site because when the President of the company did so he was arrested, and was only able to return the United States by ‘skipping bail’. It was fear, not cruelty, that kept them away.
After the terrible incident the local State government took over the site and this site is still in a terrible state to this day. It is in the interests of local politicians and officials to blame ‘American big business’ in order to cover up their own failure to clean up the site in the many years they have controlled it.
I repeat that I am open to correction on any of the above. It would not greatly surprise me if Union Carbide were to blame (as I have said I am not a great lover of ownerless corps), but that is not the situation as I understand it.