Friday, August 03, 2007

Corporate Shape-Shifting: Is its End Near?

At a time when corporations resemble lawless gangs, bringing them to justice for felony and capital crimes has been all but impossible. Corporations are shape shifters, invoking "corporate personhood" for the "freedom of speech" it gives them, but denying "personhood" in cases of mass murder and/or manslaughter.

Some twenty years on, the disaster in Bhopal in which some 8,000 people were killed is still in the news. There are two important and related developments. Last month, Dow Chemical literally purchased immunity from prosecution for its role in the Bhopal disaster even as the UK seeks to make corporations --not individuals --criminally responsible for deaths caused by a firm's gross negligence. The new law is entitled the "Corporate Manslaughter Statute."

Corporations often seem to be above the law and are. While corporations cite rights normally accorded individuals, they are rarely held to standards of equal responsibility. A single individual would have been imprisoned for an oil spill of Exxon Valdez magnitude but Exxon got off with a payoff. An individual responsible for the deaths of 8,000 at Bhopal might have gotten hard jail time for life or, in Texas, death at the end of a needle. Union Carbide, by contrast, got slapped on the corporate wrist for the deaths of 8,000 the night of December 3, 1984. There is, in fact, no definitive total of deaths.
THAT NIGHT, DECEMBER 3, 1984Shortly after midnight poison gas leaked from a factory in Bhopal, India, owned by Union Carbide Corporation. There was no warning, none of the plant's safety systems were working. In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases burning their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood. Whole neighborhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets. ....

--International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
The testimony of Mohammed Karim
I used to drive a truck to dispose of dirt and waste. My truck was also a special truck - I used to pick up unclaimed dead bodies from the mortuary, I was used to doing it. That night (3rd December 1984) I put in thousands of bodies that we dumped - in one grave we would put 5-6 bodies, and we burnt piles and piles with logs. Many bodies were burnt unidentified - Muslims were burnt and Hindus were buried.

"They (the govt.) said 'leave your wives and children in your houses and go on duty'. We used to be on duty till 12:00 at night and after that the military trucks used to come and dump the bodies in the Narmada river. This went on for three to four days. Even on the 16th (of December 1984) we had to come back again. They gave us R500 for this but then they took it back from our wages.

We would fit 120 bodies in one truck and this we would fill and empty five times a day. There were eight trucks on duty (so that is 4,800 bodies a day). It carried on for exactly the same intensity for three to four days, and after 12:00 am the military took over.

We took a bulldozer and dug pits to bury all the animals. Some people were picking up bodies and some animals. 50 - 60 drivers were all working that day (3rd December). We picked up the bodies with our own hands. Every time we picked one up it gave out gas. The bodies had all turned blue, and had froth oozing from their mouths.

In some houses everyone had died so there was no one to break the locks. In one case a 6 month old girl had survived and everybody else (mother, father and siblings) was dead. I broke the locks to that house.

At least 15 - 20,000 people died in those first few days. What they said in the papers was absolutely wrong. What could I have done? I was a government servant. What the government said was absolutely wrong but what could I do?

--How many died in Bhopal? A reply to the Houston Chronicle from Tim Edwards of the UK Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
Holding corporations responsible for crimes seems all but impossible.
In the United States, as in England, it is very difficult to hold either organizations or their officers responsible for gross negligence. For example, while many law students learn about the success civil tort plaintiffs had in suing Ford for failing to spend $13 per car to strengthen a gas tank known to be vulnerable to rear- end collisions, few learn that, at the same time, a prosecutor brought a case in criminal negligence against Ford in Indiana—and lost the jury trial.

--Anthony J. Sebok, The U.K.'s "Corporate Manslaughter" Statute, Findlaw
Dow Chemical, it appears, will escape all responsibility.
PRESS STATEMENT

Government assures Dow of immunity in return for investments

NEW DELHI. June 30, 2007 -- Organizations of survivors of the December 1984 Bhopal disaster today strongly condemned Commerce and Industries Minister Kamal Nath for his recent public assurance to indemnify Dow Chemical, in Washington DC, USA. They charged him and the Prime Minister with selling out to Dow Chemical, current owner of Union Carbide.

PMO Files obtained by survivors' organisations from the Prime Minister's Office through Right to Information reveal that the Prime Minister is involved in plans that would allow Dow Chemical to walk away from its liabilities in Bhopal, including clean up of the contaminated soil and ground water and paying compensation for the health damages caused to more than 20,000 people due to exposure to toxic contaminants in their drinking water. The “PMO Files” have been uploaded to: www.bhopal.net/pmo.html.
In other words, Dow chemical bought themselves a favorable decision. If an individual had done that, he/she would have been jailed and prosecuted for bribery. If the corporate shape-shifters do it, they are being good "corporate citizens". Nonsense! It is legalized crookery!

I have never understood the logic of "corporate personhood". On the one hand, corporations are not persons. Granting Philllp Morris the right to advertise a product that will surely kill you because the company has "freedom of speech" is ludicrous on its face. Phillip Morris is not Phil Jackson who lives down the street. I deny that "freedom of speech" means that big tobacco can tell lies in order to get you to buy a product that will kill you!

To claim that Phillip Morris has "rights" is absurd. It's not even a collection of people. In the eyes of the law, it is a "legal abstraction". Compounding the absurdity are the conflicting corporate claims that tobacco companies are immune from prosecution because they are not persons is equally absurd and absurdly contradictory. Why do corporations have it both ways when real people are most often screwed to the wall by both government and corporations and, most often, by corporations and government in cahoots?

In the Bhopal case, the Indian Supreme Court has too often sided with the "legal abstractions" against the rights of real people.
Over the past decade and a half—in line with the Indian bourgeoisie's abandonment of its national economic strategy and the associated claims that India was evolving in a "socialist" direction—the Indian Supreme Court has emerged as a spearhead of neo-liberal reform, issuing a flurry of rulings attacking democratic and worker rights and expanding the power of business and management.

The Supreme Court has taken an active role in assisting the entry of foreign investments by issuing several judgments in favor of overseas corporations.

In 1989 the Indian Supreme Court, without consulting the victims of the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, abruptly ruled as final a settlement of $470 million dollars reached between the Indian government and the Union Carbide Corporation. The company was criminally culpable in causing over 22,000 deaths and injuring at least 120,000 others, leaving many maimed for life.

India's highest court also enabled Union Carbide Corporation to wash its hands of any further responsibility by allowing it sell its Indian plants to the giant multinational Dow Chemicals. This was a clear signal to foreign corporations that their business interests will be protected even when they commit mass crimes.

The court has also issued several anti-democratic judgments restricting public debate and the right to strike. For example, in February 2006 the Indian Supreme Court imposed an unprecedented ban on public debate about or protests against, the dismantling of the toxin-laden French aircraft carrier Clemenceau in India's ship de-commissioning yards. [See Indian Supreme Court imposes sweeping ban on public debate on toxic warship].

In 2002 the Indian Supreme Court mounted an open attack on free speech by jailing the famous Indian writer and activist Arundathi Roy for criminal contempt for daring to criticize the Supreme Court. [See Arundathi Roy jailed for contempt of court]

--India: Court-directed campaign to seal "illegal" buildings in Delhi provokes social turmoil
According to Findlaw, the new law will allow the prosecution of a "...corporation or partnership (an "organization" for short) for the crime of manslaughter if the organization causes the death of a person as the result of its "gross" breach of a duty owed under the law of negligence." The state's burden of proof, however, is rather high. The state must prove a "gross breach of duty" in cases that result in death or injury. The new British law, therefore, is not a panacea or a solution. It may be, however, an important first step toward holding mere "legal abstractions" to a rule of law that applies to everyone else.

Addendum:
July 18, 2003

Mr. William Stavropoulos
Chairman and CEO
The Dow Chemical Company
2030 Dow Center
Midland, Michigan 48674

Dear Mr. Stavropoulos:

In February 2001, the Dow Chemical Company acquired Union Carbide Corporation, the company responsible for the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India, which killed thousands of people and injured several hundred thousand more.

Even at the time of acquisition, survivors of the Bhopal disaster and their supporters worldwide, including in the US, warned Dow against acquiring Union Carbide because of the liabilities pending against Union Carbide.

1. Union Carbide is an absconder from justice, having failed to face criminal charges against the company in the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court, when charges were pressed against it for manslaughter, among other crimes. To date, no representative of Union Carbide Corporation has appeared in court to face these charges.

2. The thousands of tons of toxic waste dumped by Union Carbide in and around its factory site from 1967 onwards remains abandoned to this day. Many of these toxins have migrated into the local groundwater and are showing up in the breast milk of mothers living around the factory. Union Carbide failed to restore the factory site to its original condition as required by its lease agreement with the local Madhya Pradesh State Government.

The disaster in Bhopal continues, and is likely to worsen if Dow Chemical does not step forward to fulfill its responsibilities. It is disheartening to note that a company such as Dow, who professes to lead the chemical industry towards "responsible care" shies away from its obligations when truly responsible care can be demonstrated. More disturbing is the manner in which Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have ignored the summons of the Bhopal court.

This exposes a blatant disregard for the law.

By refusing to address the liabilities it inherited in Bhopal via itsacquisition of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical is party to the ongoing human rights and environmental abuses in Bhopal. Dow Chemical should immediately take steps towards reparations in Bhopal by:

a) Ensuring the appearance of a Union Carbide representative at the ongoing criminal case in Bhopal, India.
b) Meeting the demands of the survivors for medical and economic rehabilitation.
c) Cleaning up the contamination in and around the factory site and the poisoned groundwater, and providing alternative supplies of freshwater to the affected communities in the interim.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding plans to meet those
responsibilities.

source: http://www.bhopal.net/congressletter.pdf24jul03

Signatories include U.S. Representatives Kucinich (D-OH), Pallone (D-NJ), Grijalva (D-AZ), Brown (D-OH), Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Baldwin (D-WI),Towns (D-NY), Holt (D-NJ), Stark (D-CA), DeLauro (D-CT), Crowley (D-NY),Faleomavaega (D-Am. Samoa), Solis (D-CA), Payne (D-NJ), Hinchey (D-NY),Schakowsky (D-IL), Markey (D-MA), and Lee (D-CA).

Another corporate robber baron in the news: Halliburton!

Goodbye Houston: An Alternative Annual Report on Halliburton

Contact: Pratap Chatterjee, (510) 759-8970
Charlie Cray, (202) 497 3673

May 15th, 2007

Goodbye Houston report

Download 2007 Alternative Annual Report

Houston, May 15, 2007: CorpWatch and its partners today released an alternative annual report on Halliburton titled: "Goodbye Houston" The new report was prepared in association with Halliburton Watch and the Oil & Gas Accountability Project.

The new report (the fourth in the series) is being issued on the eve of Halliburton 's annual general meeting in Woodlands, Texas, on Wednesday, May 16th, 2007. An in-depth, hard-hitting report, "Goodbye Houston," provides a detailed look at Halliburton 's military and energy operations around the world as well as its political connections. It includes a series of recommendations for the company and its shareholders as well as for the United States policymakers.

Halliburton is one of the 10 largest contractors to the U.S. military. It has earned over $20 billion from the U.S.military in war-related contracts in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. This cash bonanza may well be over because of the cancelation of its two most lucrative contracts: oil infrastructure reconstruction and military base support.

"With the loss of its two biggest taxpayer-funded contracts in Iraq, Halliburton has decided that its future lies outside the United States. The company decision to move its headquarters to Dubai could spell a major financial loss to the U.S. Treasury," says Pratap Chatterjee, co-director of CorpWatch.

"Given the multiple ongoing investigations into Halliburton 's alleged wrongdoing, policymakers should closely scrutinize Halliburton 's latest move, and whether it will allow the company to further elude accountability,” said Charlie Cray, co-director of Halliburton Watch and director of the Center for Corporate Policy. “Moreover, this underscores the need for Congress to bar companies that have broken the law, or avoided paying taxes, from receiving federal contracts.”

"Goodbye Houston" also documents

* how Halliburton may have broken the law by employing private security guards like Blackwater and Triple Canopy; the Triple Canopy guards have been alleged to have shot at unarmed Iraqis for sport

* Halliburton truck drivers allege the company failed to adequately protect them in Iraq

* new military audits which show deliberate concealment of high overheads

* new lawsuits allege that company management in Iraq and Kuwait knowingly wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers dollars

Today as the military slows its purchases of Halliburton services in Iraq, the company is diversifying into such profitable areas the provision of direct services to the oil and gas industry abroad.

* Halliburton has finally admitted that its executives may have been involved in bribery and political meddling Nigeria

* Halliburton 's hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States have continued to have disastrous impacts on the environment, including community water supplies

* Halliburton has been accused of substandard work on offshore operations in Brazil, and is under investigation for no-bid contracts in Algeria

Download 2007 Alternative Annual Report

2006 Alternative Annual Report Press Release

Download 2006 Alternative Annual Report

2005 Alternative Annual Report Press Release

Download 2005 Alternative Annual Report

2004 Alternative Annual Report Press Release

Download 2004 Alternative Annual Report

The following video is an excellent treatment of the facts in evidence with regard to the mass killing perpetrated upon the people at Bhopal. A must see.

The Exxon-Valdez:

From the Insider with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino:

The Corporation, Part One.

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