Warren’s Commissions

The Octogenarian ex-CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, has lived well the last 18 years.  The surviving victims of his crimes have not. 


And the death toll of his crimes continues to mount.


Anderson has been “absconding” from justice for since the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.  Now, pressure for Anderson’s extradition to India is increasing.  The extradition campaign is being lead by several organizations representing the survivors and seeking redress for the dead and the dying. 


During litigation brought by these organizations, Union Carbide was forced to disclose documents that indicate unequivocally that Anderson knew that the Bhopal factory’s Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) unit had not tested safe and, further, that Anderson ordered severe cost-cutting measures in the hazardous parts of the plant.


In short, the gas leak was a predictable outcome of his actions. 


Anderson must be extradited and must be forced to live the rest of his life in an Indian jail.  Why?  Two reasons:  Justice and Deterrence.


Before getting into either argument, let’s look at the facts in a bit more detail:


On the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, tons of the deadly gas MIC spewed from a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal—the cloud of gas engulfed entire wards of the city; thousands of people died horrible deaths, drowning in their own bodily fluids, lungs and eyes aflame.  Tens of thousands were maimed that night itself.  As time passed, ailments developed and the drinking water in the gas-affected wards became toxic, thus producing a continuous and constant set of wracking health risks.    Over the last 18 years, the number of people whose lives and bodies have been shattered exceeds 200,000.  As of today, 30 people die monthly as a result of gas-related ailments and over 120,000 people are in need of urgent medical care.  Of these, 80,000 are too ill to perform manual labor, thereby rendering them unable to support their families.   

The conditions that precipitated the accident were the results of typically inhumane cost-cutting efforts by Union Carbide.  The proximate cause of that night’s gas leak was the turning off of the refrigeration unit—in order to save $40 a day.  That the plant was of flawed design and an incredible safety hazard was known to Union Carbide – previous accidents and a company-performed safety audit finding “61 hazards…[including] 11 in the phosgene/MIC units” made the case very clear—that the plant was a powder keg. Nothing was done about it.   

After the accident, Union Carbide acted immediately to mitigate financial risk and in keeping with this to take incredibly cynical steps, including withholding key medical information on the leaked gas and dispensing unsound medical advice in order to support their ridiculous claim that MIC was “nothing more than a potent tear gas.”  After denying financial responsibility for years, Union Carbide finally settled out of court with the Government of India—and agreed to pay $470 Million.  On the day the paltry settlement was announced, the stock price of Union Carbide shot up $2.  Families of the dead received $1250 and each injured victim got between $400 and $500.      


Argument 1:  For justice to not be miscarried further, Anderson must be extradited, prosecuted, and jailed in India.


This point flows directly from the fact that a grievous crime, in fact a super-crime, was committed.  The unfortunate part is that in elite circles, one finds almost universal agreement that those who commit “small crimes” should be brought to justice; super-crimes however require punishment in the form of golden handshakes, country-club memberships, and fawning and fulsome articles in the Wall Street Journal.


In more sane circles, however, it is acknowledged that boardroom decisions that result directly in death are criminal acts and that the criminal actors should be punished.


If justice means anything, Anderson should be jailed in India.  (Cruel and unusual punishment would be to force him to drink a glass of the contaminated water that thousands of Bhopalis bathe in and drink everyday-water contaminated by Union Carbide’s plant.)


Argument 2:  To deter other business leaders from committing such crimes, Anderson must be extradited, prosecuted, and jailed in India.


Corporate mavens live in the warm cocoon of indemnity.  For their “actions” there is all too often no “reaction.”  They make profit-based decisions that affect the health and well being of thousands of people without consideration of the effects on these people, and with no fear of recrimination.  Would Warren Anderson  have issued edicts for paltry cost savings if he thought that he personally would be held liable for the predictable outcome of his actions?  


One step to help ensure that corporate leaders are far more circumspect is to make them live in extremis when they make decisions that deleteriously affect peoples’ health or well being.  Life in an Indian jail would certainly be one lived in extremis.


Warren Anderson committed a deadly crime.  For 18 years, he’s avoided justice.  For 18 years Bhopalis have been sick, wracked with pain, dying. 


Its time for Anderson to pay the price for his crimes.

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