I just watched Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain. The movie is based on the greatest industrial accident recorded with over 3700 lives lost in a matter of hours due to chemical release. I blame this on a lack of competent governance and global laws and treaties that have de facto impacts of economically inspiring some nations while socially crushing others.

This movie is the story of the disastrous industrial accident in history, recording 3,787 lives lost in just a few hours. All this, a result of unsafe business practices–the need for profits and production outpacing the will for safety or security.  (For context: 2,752 lives were lost in the World Trade Center tragedy)

Wikipedia has the following to add:

The Bhopal disaster was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Around midnight on 3 December 1984,methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas was accidentally released from the plant, exposing more than 500,000 people to MIC and other chemicals. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. It left an estimated 40,000 individuals permanently disabled, maimed, or suffering from serious illness, making it one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. In the curative petition filed in the Supreme Court, the government has asked the court to direct the US-based company, now owned by Dow Chemicals, to compensate for 5,295 deaths and 527,894 people getting injured in the tragedy.[10][11] Union Carbide was sued by the Government of India and agreed to an out-of-court settlement of US$470 million in 1989. The plant site has not yet been cleaned up.

Union Carbide’s Chairman, John Anderson, is an American who was operating a subsidiary in India. He likely moved production there because (1) regulations on chemical production in India are relaxed compared to America or most industrialized nations (2) production costs are lower. Globalizing your business while keeping your supply chain internalized means that you’re spreading responsibilities further and wider. Naturally, accountability should follow. However, where effective regulatory policy lacks, I note a lack of business leaders taking the reins and making decisions that would positively impact the community their businesses are within.
What’s this mean? While Union Carbide (Global) made it’s money by selling the product produced by Union Carbide India and the leadership at Union Carbide India bowed to Union Carbide (Global), the two are considered separate entities and thereby responsibilities for safety & security or in the aftermath of tragedy aren’t shared.

Anderson was charged for manslaughter in the Indian court system and remained a fugitive of the Indian Court till his death, in 2014. As this matter was settled out of court, the families saw no real justice (aside from a $300 payment for the loss of their family member).Even if Anderson was charged and punished, 3.7k lives were still lost.

The conversation on corporate regulation and governance for global companies has to be an inclusive preventative conversation that takes into account local laws, regulation, and responsibility to abide by the laws of the areas in which you chose to do business. Talking about how Anderson and Dow Chemical should be charged is reactive.

The merit we should be judged on is how effective we were in preventing another irresponsible accident.

Regular can often stifle innovation and progress, but when the price associated to progress is human life, it’s time to stop and take account.

Should corporate leadership be accountable to the laws of the countries in which their organization operates in? What if these are two legal entities with a business partnership? What about the roles/responsibilities of nations in treaties and trade agreements…do you think it’s time to update some of the stuff our forefathers set in place?

I’m curious to hear what you think. What are your thoughts?

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