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For the week of Feb. 23 through Feb. 29, 2000

The universal lack of corporate accountability

Express Staff Writer

In that star-crossed land we still call Yugoslavia another in a series of disasters arrived recently. The catastrophe was not limited to Yugoslavia, but struck Hungary and Romania as well. It was not a political, social or military debacle, like recent others in that area; rather, it was an environmental disaster caused by corporate irresponsibility.

And, as happens everywhere in the world, over and over and over, there seems to be somewhere between little and no corporate accountability for corporate irresponsibility and the human and ecological disasters they cause.

On Jan. 30, a cyanide pond dam at the Australian owned Baia Mare gold mine in northwest Romania overflowed. It sent cyanide into streams that eventually killed every living thing in the Tisza and Danube rivers which flow through Hungary and Yugoslavia. Hungarian officials said some 83 tons of dead fish had been removed from just the Tisza River. The sale of fresh water fish has been banned in Serbia.

Cyanide is used to extract gold from crushed rock by mixing it with water compounds. Its advantage is that it makes it highly profitable to process low-grade ores, an economic boom to mining companies which are almost always multi-national corporations whose directors and owners have no involvement or relationship with the people or environment of areas they mine, except to exploit them both.

The disadvantage of cyanide is that it blocks the transport of oxygen across cell walls of living creatures, with the central nervous system being the most sensitive. That is, it kills by shutting down the central nervous system in any living thing that has one. The risk to living creatures will remain as cyanide compounds persist in groundwater and soils and in the crops that are grown from them.

Brett Montgomery, chairman of Esmeralda Exploration in Perth, Australia, which owns the mine, announced in Australia that the accident had been grossly exaggerated and that he expected his company to face no compensation claims. As expected from the culture of corporate irresponsibility, Montgomery is not reported to have expressed any remorse, apology or personal or corporate accountability for the poisoning of two of Europe’s major rivers. Nor did he say how he knew from Australia how the accident in Europe was "grossly exaggerated."

This is the corporate way. It is less profitable to be accountable and responsible.

It is a corporate story told over and over and over. In 1992, a similar ‘spill’ occurred on the Alamosa River in southern Colorado, killing all life in 17 miles of that river system. It will take decades for that area to recover.

A question that comes to mind is what is the value of a few pounds of gold compared to life itself, and who is responsible (and accountable) for that value?

On the night of Dec. 2-3, 1984, in Bhopal, India, leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from a factory killed unknown thousands of people within a few hours, and continues to kill to this day. Estimates of the dead range from 5,000 (by the owners of the factory) to 16,000 (by the groups formed to seek compensation for the injured, the ill and the survivors of the dead of Bhopal). Either way, it is the worst corporate/industrial disaster in history.

Neither the corporate owner of the Bhopal factory, Union Carbide India Limited, a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corp. USA, or its corporate directors have ever been held legally, financially, or, of course, morally, accountable for the negligence that destroyed the lives of thousands of people and poisoned an entire area.

Precisely because these corporations and their directors (and many, many, many others; these are only examples to make a point; they are not a complete list and they are not anomalies) are not held accountable for their actions and failures to take action, other disasters will follow. The Bhopal disaster will not remain as the worst in history, but will remain as a mostly forgotten milestone in a growing list of tragedies caused by corporate irresponsibility.

Anyone who follows world or local events can make a personal list of examples of corporate malfeasance where corporations avoid responsibility for actions and consequences that would be criminal if done by an individual. If a mass murderer poisoned 16,000 people in one attack, the government would call for his head. Because Union Carbide is a giant multi-national corporation, both the Indian and American governments and legal systems have failed to take action.

Nor is it likely that Esmeralda Exploration of Perth will be held accountable for destroying two rivers in three countries.

And what do these sad, corporate events have to do with the lives of people in central Idaho? Besides the observable fact that we and all things are connected and that the bell really does toll for thee, they are reminders that corporations do not move into areas to improve them by creating jobs, but, rather, to take as much as they can as quickly and cheaply as possible. They are not interested in the economic, human or ecological health of any place on earth, including Idaho. The modern corporation is able to be anywhere to its own advantage and nowhere in terms of local accountability. The modern corporation is organized so as to evade both corporate and personal responsibility.

Whether it is corporate hog factories, the builders of nuclear waste incinerators, the secret grave diggers of nuclear waste, companies who fail to inform their employees of the dangers they face from radiation and toxic chemicals, mining companies, logging corporations, electrical conglomerates or corporate construction companies (all of which exist in Idaho), they all share a common practice and ethic: the buck never stops.


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