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From Bhopal to Kodaikanal

Two stories of corporate culpability that have followed parallel trajectories.

When the annals of corporate accountability, culpability and negligence in India are compiled, the erstwhile Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) is sure to top the list. But not far behind will be Hindustan Unilever (HUL). On4 March, HUL reached an out-of-court settlement with 591 of its former employees from the now defunct thermometer plant in Kodaikanal. The very fact it did is an acknowledgement that the workers were exposed to occupational hazards, something it had stubbornly denied for over a decade.

The story of these two large multinationals, and their refusal to be held accountable, has followed a similar trajectory. UCC, now Dow Chemicals, was responsible for the disaster at its Bhopal fertiliser factory on 2 December 1984 that killed and maimed thousands and is still known as the world’s worst industrial disaster. Yet, 31 years after that cold winter night when methyl isocyanate (MIC) from the plant suffocated and killed thousands in one night and left many more impaired, the chapter is not closed. The deadly chemicals used in the plant have remained on the site of the closed unit, leaching into the groundwater and poisoning the soil.

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