Looking Back at Bhopal & Looking Forward to the Future - Our Children
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"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.” -Nelson Mandela
In today’s material-driven society, it is obvious that children are often directly targeted by companies who view them as consumers. One out of three people today are under the age of 18, making this group a highly valuable market for many corporations. However, children are also indirectly influenced by the decisions of global business. There are a myriad of examples of business decisions affecting more than just businessmen, but also impacting children in a tangible way.
The largest chemical disaster in world history resulted from one business’s failure to protect humanity, and our children. In 1984, Union Carbide India Limited’s pesticide factory released a toxic gas in Bhopal, India. The consequences were both immediate and long lasting. It is estimated that the death toll reached between 15,000-20,000. The number of children that were exposed to the toxic gas is said to be at least 200,000. The stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates jumped nearly 300% and 200%, respectively, in the aftermath of the tragedy. Furthermore, the effects of the disaster are devastating to children today, as more than 20,000 people still live in close proximity to the site of the incident. The toxins are present 29 years later, and are known to cause swelling in the brain, degeneration of the liver and kidneys, and rotting of the intestines. The toxins have been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers, which has increased the number of babies born with physical as well as mental deformities. Children are born without limbs. In many ways, the tragedy has never really ended.
Bhopal is just one of many examples where child welfare has taken a back seat to corporate profit. Union Carbide officials were been able to evade serious punishment, eventually settling for $470 million, or between $370 and $533 per victim. But at what cost to the region’s long-term welfare? When will issues like quality of life, access to education and health care, and life expectancy surpass our thirst for profit? Today’s global business climate affords corporations with ample latitude in regards to regulations affecting these areas. This responsibility cannot be taken lightly, because no matter how accidental, to mistreat a child is to lose sight of human compassion. Without this compassion, child welfare, the bedrock of humanity, is crushed under the weight of the world economy.
The question now becomes: what do people want their community to be known for? As a citizenry that treats innocent children as obstacles in the way of profit? Or as a place where businesses treat children as legitimate stakeholders who need to be held up and aided by the region’s economic activity? If there is any lesson from Bhopal it’s that the actions of business today are felt by children for generations to come.
-Katy Roby, 23, San Diego, California & Eric Grimberg, 24, Portland, Oregon