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Bhopal : Flowers at the altar of profit and power
Frank Pearce and Steve Tombs
All authors' royalties from this book will go to the Bhopal Medical Appeal. The authors are Professor of Sociology at Queen's University, Canada and Professor of Criminology at the Open University.
2012, an e-book in pdf, price £ or € 3.95. ISBN 978-0-9570241-6-8.
Multi-user in perpetuity licences available for universities and colleges at £ or €35.
“We are not flowers offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness and to challenging those who threaten the planet and the magic and mystery of life”.
So said Rashida Bee, a Bhopal survivor who lost six family members in the disaster.
In December 1984, a massive gas leak killed thousands in and around a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India; tens of thousands have died since, and many more have had their lives and livelihoods devastated. The US-based company and its CEO remain absconders from Indian justice. They have consistently denied, obfuscated and used the resources at the disposal of the powerful to evade any legal judgment.
This book draws on a considerable literature to make a social scientific judgment of their liability for the world’s worst industrial ‘disaster’. It attempts to convey some of the horrendous events and consequences of the gas leak itself, before examining Union Carbide’s responses to and 'explanations' of the disaster, contrasting these with more persuasive explanations.
The book then poses, and answers, a key question: was the disaster unforeseeable and therefore preventable? In conclusion, we explore corporate rationality and in particular reflect on the view that everything has its price, that money can compensate for any loss or injury. It is this view which helps to explain the manoeuvrings that went into the determination of the deeply problematic legal “settlement” for the victims of Bhopal – a sordid compromise between unequal parties which offers no justice, but underlines why the struggle of Rashida Bee and others around the globe continues.
"This is the most incisive, persuasive and detailed account of the Bhopal disaster yet written. In clear, beautiful prose, using hundreds of documents and contrasting accounts, Pearce and Tombs meticulously document the causes, effects and aftermath of the world’s worst industrial “accident” (so far). Through its own corporate documents they trace the lines of responsibility from the parent company, Union Carbide (now Dow), to Bhopal, revealing the duplicity and venality of its efforts to distance itself by laying all blame on Indian management or the elusive “saboteur”. Their concluding argument shows how the world-view championed by neo-liberal economics - that market values must take primacy in all human relationships and that everything has its price – both legitimates Bhopal and fuels continuing cultural, environmental and social damage. This superb, important book should be read by activists, politicians and everyone working for a more just, equitable world." (From the Foreword by Laureen Snider, Professor Emerita, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario)
Frank Pearce is Professor of Sociology at Queen's University, Canada.
Steve Tombs is Professor of Sociology at Liverpool John Moores University.