The universal lack of corporate accountability
Commentary By DICK DORWORTH
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
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
Europes 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
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.