In last week’s article I described how the chief executive of BP was grilled, challenged and, indeed, insulted when he gave testimony under oath at the committee at the House committee on energy and commerce. Representative Bart Stupak led the charge when he bluntly told Tony Hayward, “the committee is extremely frustrated with your lack of candour. You are the CEO. You have a PhD. We hope you have more candour in your responses.” Congressman Henry Waxman accused Tony Hayward of stonewalling and evading questions. He declared that he was amazed by Hayward’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the ecological disaster. Addressing the CEO directly he said, “Mr. Hayward, you’re not taking responsibility. You are kicking the can down the road and acting as if you have nothing to do with this company.” Congressman Peter Welch from Vermont challenged BP’s safety record. He situated the Deepwater Horizon disaster within list of major pollution incidents involving BP. He referred to the explosion at the Texas City refinery in 2005, the major leak in BP pipe line at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska in 2007. Given this poor safety record he asked Hayward whether he though it was time for him to resign. Hayward refused to discuss his own position but kept repeating that he was “devastated” by the accident and was doing all in his power to ensure a “safe, reliable operation” at BP.
As Republican and Democrat congressmen filed out of the committee room on June 17th 2010, they probably felt very frustrated that they could get very little useful information out of Tony Hayward. On the other hand, they probably felt satisfied that they had given the CEO of BP a good roasting which would go down well with their electorate at the November election. They could claim that they were not afraid to hold a multinational company accountable and that they would do all in their power to protect U.S. citizens and the U.S. environment.
But, unfortunately, that is as far as they would be willing to go. It would appear that U.S. lives and U.S. environment are much more important than lives elsewhere. On the night of December 2, 1984, an explosion took place at the Union Carbide pesticide plant a Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. This factory was a subsidiary of the U.S. company Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical. As a result of the explosion 500,000 people were exposed to the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other toxins. Estimates of those who were killed by the gas vary. Agencies of the Indian government put the figures at 8,000 in the immediate aftermath of the explosion and another 8,000 people have died since as a result of gas-related illnesses. Apart from those who died, the lives tens of thousands of people have been blighted by exposure to the toxic gas. Many were permanently disabled with diseases ranging from blindness to various forms of cancers, respiratory problems and neurological disorders. The impact of the poisoning continues, as children are born with major defects.
In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former CEO, Warren Anderson 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. Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards and that they were not fixed in Bhopal but were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the U.S.
Even though the Bhopal judgment was handed down the same week as Hayward’s testimony to Congress, not a single one of the congressmen made any connection between Deepwater Horizon and Bhopal. Member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action contrast the $20 billion fund to compensate people and clean up the environment in the U.S. with the paltry sum given to the victims of Union Carbide. In the early 1990s survivors were award a mere 25,000 rupees ($435).  Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal groups asks, “Obama holds companies accountable in the U.S. but why is it that he does not hold American companies responsible for what they do abroad?” A very good question!
 Suzanne Goldenberg, “ ‘ I don’t recall’: stonewalling BP chief leaves Congress inflamed.” The Guardian, June 18th 2010. Page 7.
 Rahul Bedi, “U.S. accused of double standards over Bjhopal: $20 bn BP fund prompts calls for similar liability in India,” The Irish Times, June 19the 2010, page 13.