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Globalization and Justice Discussed at Agnes Scott Event

June 2005
Globalization and Justice Discussed at Agnes Scott Event

Film on Bhopal gas disaster served as centerpiece

On Tuesday, April 26, Agnes Scott College's Ethics Program hosted a thought-provoking event entitled "Globalization and Justice: Learning from Bhopal." Alka Roy, who has been working on the Bhopal campaign with the Association for India's Development (AID) for several years, began the program with a short talk about globalization, primarily as it relates to corporations. With the corporations becoming more powerful than nations, she talked about the need to understand the imbalance that that makes it challenging to demand justice.

Ms. Roy pointed out that much human suffering is not due to a lack of natural resources, but rather to unequal distribution of resources. Moreover, she argued, corporate globalization allows wealthy multinational companies using the natural resources (including human beings) of developing countries to enhance their profits, moving on whenever a more profitable opportunity arises. As a result, it is primarily the wealthiest people in the developing countries that benefit from a higher or more "Western" standard of living, along with the people in the developed countries who can afford to buy more products for less money.���

Ms. Roy also challenged the audience to consider how plausible it is to expect justice from corporations in the absence of public pressure?including legal pressure. She also challenged them to think about how reasonable it is to expect governments in developing countries to enforce the laws protecting their citizens, environment, and resources without making their countries less inviting to the multinational corporations in search of the cheapest and most accommodating places to do business. What structures are in place for holding a multi-national corporation accountable?

The centerpiece of the evening's event was Ilan Ziv's 2004 documentary, Litigating Disaster. The film focuses largely on the responsibility of Union Carbide for the December 1984 leak of methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide India Limited plant. (According to an article in the March 5, 2000 New York Times, the leaked gas killed approximately 3000, and injured approximately 200,000; others have estimated as many as 5000 killed and 300,000 injured.)

Litigating Disaster centers on the case that Rajan Sharma, an Indian-American lawyer, brought to the Federal District Court in New York on behalf of the disaster's survivors. The film calls attention to the way that Union Carbide officers have avoided punishment by playing the courts of India and the United States against each other: first demanding that the Indian courts try the many cases resulting from the disaster, but then resisting extradition to India. (In its capacity as representative for the victims of the disaster, the Indian government received $470 million in damages from Union Carbide, only some of which has made its way to the survivors.)

The film vividly conveys not only the immediate effects of the leak, but the long-term damage as well, including the health problems still afflicting survivors and their children, and the water pollution, which harms all citizens of the area. It makes a compelling case that Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) was criminally negligent for equipping the Bhopal plant with out-dated equipment, building their plant too close to a highly populated area, and failing to have proper safety procedures in place. The film points out that such things were not done--and would have seemed shocking if done--in building, situating, or operating a similar Union Carbide plant in the US.

This event was part of an Environmental Justice lecture series, which also included talks on environmental justice and environmental racism by sociology professor Robert Bullard (Clark Atlanta University) and on sustainability and intergenerational environmental justice by philosophy professor Bryan Norton (Georgia Tech.). This series was organized by philosophy professor Lara Denis, who directs the Ethics Program at Agnes Scott. Funding for the event was provided by the James T. and Ella Rather Kirk Presentations Fund.

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