The Anniversary of Bhopal, 20 years on

I remember exactly what I was doing the day that tragedy struck at Bhopal, working in a pesticide filled greenhouse. When I got home that evening and saw the horror in India, I cried at all the death and destruction. Then I heard the name of the chemical and recognized it as one that we used regularly at the greenhouse, Sevin, found in Round-up. When we showed up for work the next day nearly all of us refused to enter the greenhouse, it smelled like chemicals and the dead faces from India were clear in our minds. Management told us it was okay. Nope, not going in there. We were screamed at, but none of us budged, the ones who hadn’t seen the news crept back out and, after hearing about the 2000 dead, refused as well.

Now, after 20 years, that incident still is a landmark for me. In human cost, thousands dead and thousands sick. It is overwhelming. The grossness of the company’s failure to compensate the survivors is overwhelming as well. From their website it is pretty clear they feel no need to care for those injured by the second most serious industrial accident of all time. (The first being a burst dam in China, at least according to the Learning Channel.)

I appreciate American companies going overseas to find cheap labor, cheap land, all that fun capitalist stuff. What I find detestable is that there isn’t a mind to make working conditions in these overseas plants better. Americans enjoy such an amazing quality of life that when we go overseas to make money we should be bringing that quality of life with us. Granted it won’t be up to US standards, but at least the basics should be covered. Stuff like plant safety, worker safety and proper chemical storage should all be a given.

While I am a conservative and think that regulations on private companies can become so burdensome as to make them unable to make a profit, I do think that some regulation is appropriate and needed. This kind of regulation would have to impose fines on American companies operating overseas when their operation costs lives, as in the case of Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant. Now, of course, it would have to be carefully and specifically defined. Since that is where government tends to bloat, I don’t see this as ever becoming a reality.

The best solution would be that these companies would hold themselves to a high standard, both in operation and compensation. I am sure some do. I don’t know anything about them, which makes sense. We never hear the good news, it’s the bad news that always gets the best press.

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