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The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. The catastrophe has become the symbol of negligence to human beings from transnational corporations. It has thus served as an alarm clock. All the same, industrial disasters still happen, in India as well as in the industrialized part of the world. Although they are far from the size of Bhopal, they are so numerous so that chemical hazards could well be considered as a public health problem. The companies usually dispute their own roll to the accidents, and deny the health effects of the accidents. The companies have also been reluctant to compensate the victims economically.
In this essay, the ethical issues behind the responsibilities of the stake holders who is responsible
for this catastrophic disaster is brought into lime light. In order to explain this, the question is strongly framed as "Is it ethically standard that the company is solely responsible for the atastrophic disaster? Why?"
Background and causes:
The UCIL factory was established in 1969 near Bhopal. 50.9% was owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and 49.1% by various Indian investors, including public sector financial institutions. In 1979 a methyl isocyanate (MIC) production plant was added to the site. MIC, an intermediate in carbaryl manufacture, was used instead of less hazardous but more expensive
materials . Since 1980, the Bhopal plant had caused death and injury to many. From then demand for the pesticide as drastically decreased .Local managers were directed to close the plant and prepare it for sale in July 1984 due to decreased profitability. In the meantime, the facility continued to operate with safety equipment and procedures far below the standards found
in its sister plant in Institute, West Virginia .At this juncture company has not followed the norms of the safety requirements.
At 11.00 PM on December 2 1984, while most of the one million residents of Bhopal slept, an
operator at the plant noticed a small leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and increasing pressure
inside a storage tank. Pressure and heat from the vigorous exothermic reaction in the tank continued to build. Within hours the catastrophic devastation had happened, which had killed
millions of soul. It became one of the worst chemical disasters in history and the name Bhopal
became synonymous with industrial catastrophe . Estimates of the number of people killed in
the first few days by the plume from the UCC plant run as high as 10,000, with 15,000 to 20,000
premature deaths reportedly occurring in the subsequent two decades. The Indian government
reported that more than half a million people were exposed to the gas. Several epidemiological
studies conducted soon after the accident showed significant morbidity and increased mortality
in the exposed population.
In June 2010, seven ex-employees were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and
sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment
allowed by law. An eighth former employee was also convicted but died before judgment was
passed . A lot of non-profit organizations are working to achieve justice for people who were
affected by the disaster. The then CEO, Warren Anderson, is also charged with civil and criminal
charges in courts in Manhattan, USA and Bhopal, India. He is appeared to have gone absconding
and hasn't participated in trials.
In 1989, Indian Supreme Court mediated a settlement; UCC accepted moral responsibility and
agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian government to be distributed to claimants as a full and
final settlement . In the coming section, the entire scenario has been dealt how ethically it is important to handle this issue.
In this case we have four Actors or called stake holders: Union Carbide Corporation India,
Government of India, Government of US, Local society.
In the second half of 20th century, Union Carbide Corporation was extending its subsidiaries over 40 countries. In the list, it has decided to include India as one of its subsidiaries by knowing the vast need and foreseen market strategies. So the main motive of the company is to make more profit by using the resources of other countries which has available cheap labor and with fewer regulations.
Next stake holder, Government of India acknowledges the growth opportunities that industrialization brings with it and being the voice of local community, approves a go-ahead. It
has made this decision in a intention that it would help the economy to grow and for the welfare
of the local society.
Speaking of local community, we can say that this industry was to bring growth opportunities to
them and the concern of risks involved with it had very little to do with them. They were not
knowledgeable enough to foresee the possible risks involved with it. Government was there to
make decisions on their behalf.
Final stake holder, Government of USA. Same intention of the local government, it has also
approves a go-ahead. The firm involved in this case belongs to USA, was answerable to the
authorities in USA. Thus, it makes the authorities in USA responsible for its behavior.
In this case, we are dealing with the two moral value; safety and responsibility. In which, safety
could be assumed as a uniform value considering that safety of plant and its local surroundings is
considered. We are investigating who is more responsible for this catastrophic disaster. We cannot blame all of them; Each and every stake holder has their own arguments and needs. This
can be understood by looking into ethical values.
The plant management would never hesitate to consider some trade-off for a certain level of safety for a certain level of costs because at the end of the day they are there to make profit. They
have key responsibility. Local government is there to ensure a balance between growth aspects
and risks involved with this set-up. Local community would aspire for a win-win situation in which they get all the benefits that the plant has to offer and at the same time they would hope
that all the safety aspects are well covered. Government of USA would not be directly concerned
unless there is a major issue, their main concern would be safe conduct. But since the company
pays taxes, they would expect the company to do good business.
To analyze these values, some factual issues are presented. First, what is the health risk involved
With production of potentially harmful substances? We have been dealing with all sorts of dangerous substances from the very beginning of time, so perhaps it would be more logical to consider more risky situations like when production is carried out near a densely populated region. It is quite clear from the Bhopal case that the damage is beyond imagination and totally
irreversible. In general, it could be said that if something goes wrong then it is next to impossible
to avert the disaster. Risk are always there, intentionally or unintentionally every actor ethically
responsible for a cause to occur. So, what was level of awareness created around the community?
What was the level of ignorance towards the risk involved in production?
Looking through these safety values and responsibility, we can't say local government has to be
stringent in their regulations. It is responsible for this disaster, but not solely. Coming back to the
first stake holder, UCC. It knows how dangerous is the production process and knows what kind
of safety measures need to be taken surrounding the plant. They are also responsible for this disaster, but not solely. When it comes to Government of USA, It should have concern about the
safety regulations of its own company in other country. Other factual issue is that, the safety measures need to be satisfied only in their own country (U.S)?So, They are also responsible for
this disaster, but not solely.
Reaction of the Actors:
We have already discussed stakeholder's interests. So, at this point it is clear that who wanted
what. Now, we know that something went wrong and this disaster took place. In this section, we
will discuss stakeholder's takes on the matter and try to come up with some arguments for a general case.
Local government had blamed UCIL for the disaster for being negligent and reckless in their plant operation. The facts state that there were numerous compromises with safety due to lack of
funds. There was only one manual back-up system, compared to a four-stage system used in the
US (Lepowski (1994). The MIC tank alarms had not worked for four years (Eckerman, 2004).The plant was short on staff, facilities used were out-dated, general maintenance level was
low etc. So, clearly there was a trade-off for a certain level of safety for a certain level of costs.
As a result of which, plant had already suffered a significant number of lapses in keeping itself
clean in late 70's and early 80's (Chouhan et al.,2004). Contamination of well, cattle deaths, large fire and several leaks had already labeled the plant as unsafe. Also, in September of the
same year, safety audit by UCC (the parent company) had found several shortcomings. So, the
government had a strong case against UCIL. We know that the main reason behind the disaster
was water leakage which then reacted. We know that the main reason behind the disaster was water leakage which then reacted with certain chemicals and thus lead to gas leak. There were many theories for cause behind water leakage. One of them, used by UCIL, was that the whole thing was a result of an act of sabotage caused deliberately by some worker in the plant. And since, safety precautions do not take sabotage considerations into account for general purposes, UCIL refused to accept their wrong-doings.
As far as local community is concerned, they had only one villain in the picture. It was the local
Community that had suffered most from the disaster and was left shattered with loss of their
Beloved ones and also with permanent diseases to almost everybody who was exposed. It should
also be noted that takes from local government and society had a huge sentimental impact in
This section will be discussed in two parts; options and their ethical evaluation. We begin with possible options to our problem statement. First option would come from the Yes or No strategy. So in this case it would either be a straight no, that UCC is not solely responsible for the catastrophic event or a straight yes. The other options would come from the Cooperation strategy. According to which, a possible Optimum solution would be desired so as to reach a balance between safety and responsibility that responsibility and safety has to offer under such circumstances. Now, we will have to consider some moral issues before we go on and comment on whether it is Morally acceptable that UCC is solely responsible for the safety by putting profit over risks. There are certain things which would always be out of control for a society, things in which a society will have to trust its representatives and also the involved company. In principle, a society would trust a company to follow certain business ethics. In this case, a society would also trust its representatives to follow environmental ethics. But we also know that stakeholder's
interests often have a huge say in how they act. Then there's also a matter of moral responsibility
towards the society, a matter of providing honest information to the society.
Now, ethical evaluation of before mentioned options would be based on both, formal and informal ethical theories. Clearly, it is not possible to choose a straight yes or no by using Utilitarianism. Because both values, safety and responsibilities, are significant enough to defend
their stance. And, it involves number of people life, cannot be defined clearly because both values have almost equal say. In the Bhopal case, responsibility for the cause becomes the dominant value because the action has taken place but in general, by denying safety you also
deny responsibility both are interlinked ethically.
On the other hand, Kantian theory says "Act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or
in that of any other, in every case as an end, never as means only."This theory would suggest that
If company had obeyed the regulations of the local government completely then "NO" It is not
solely responsible for this cause. If not, then "YES" it's solely responsible. But in reality we have seen how much impact stakeholder's interests have in these matters. Then there's always a
room for doubt whether you as a society receive honest information or not. You can never be
sure of what happens inside. So, Kant's theory also doesn't provide a clear picture on options by
Yes or No strategy.
Same goes by virtue ethics consideration because no matter how rich the companies are in their
character traits, there's always an element of uncertainty due to varied interests. But in this case,
by common sense it could be said that a straight yes or no is not a good option. You cannot solely blame on the company alone, there are also other stake holders who are also involved in
this. Again by common sense, you cannot defend a straight "yes". So, this is how informal ethical framework undermines options from Yes or No strategy.
Now, we move on to cooperation strategy. According to cooperation strategy, we strive for an
option which provides a balance between responsibility and safety. If the company did not balance the safety equally with the responsibility then the answer is Yes. But is it that straight forward? Yes. This option essentially means that a compromise will take place. Then questions will be raised if it is morally acceptable to say the company is solely responsible. This option certainly reduces the possibility of other stake holders (excluding the local community) responsibilities for safety. Whereas, by Kantian theory we could say that if such considerations would be made and hence a certain set of norms are followed then it is acceptable to that the company is responsible because this theory doesn't deal with consequences. But we do! That's
why it is not that straight forward either.
In previous section, we discussed possible solutions and their ethical evaluation. We discussed
their feasibility and the consequences they might lead to. In this section, we will try to arrive at a
choice for one of the option; a choice which could be argued in relation to the different ethical
frameworks. It would be suitable to try to find out the dominant value in this case. In general, dominant values are usually intrinsic values and not merely instrumental values, also if more people find a value important; it is more likely that it is a dominant value. Unfortunately, in this case it is not that simple because all the stake holders have their own arguments and faults. Picking between these two choices is not an easy task. So, it is not possible to determine a dominant value in this case. But if it wasn't so, then we could have defined a dominant value and picked the options which served that value.
Observations from ethical framework suggested that choosing either Yes or No won't be a good idea. So, it will have to be a grey solution. We argued most of the part and found what happens when it is compromised. But if we dig deep and look closely into the matter we see that it is no
different than what happens in our day to day life. We all blame each other if anything went wrong in an organization or a team work. Nobody accepts that they are solely responsible for the
Problem of Many hands:
As a whole when we appoint certain authorities, we entrust them with our faith. This is the way a
everything works. In the Bhopal case, there were wrong doings from the company, in its failure to maintain a certain level of safety standards and there were wrong doings from the local government in its failure to abandon recklessly running plant. So, if we do not want to pin point
any of the stake holders, we must ensure that these aspects are taken care of.
In this case everyone should have collective responsibility, "No" one is solely responsible for the
poisonous tragic incident.