The Bhopal Disaster and its Aftermath as a Case Study in Misapplication of CSR

The previous articles in this module have discussed how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a business imperative is no longer a luxury and instead, it has become a necessity. We have also discussed how companies can no longer afford to pay lip service to CSR and the time has come to take the concept seriously. Indeed, the stakes are high for companies that chose to ignore societal concerns as evidenced in the way companies that have ridden roughshod over social obligations have found to their consternation that the awakening public consciousness demands answers from the companies.

This article discusses the specific case of the disaster in the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, India as an instance of how the disaster itself and the way in which the aftermath of the disaster are being handled is a classic case of misapplication of the concept of Social Responsibility.

This article does not go into the details of the industrial accident. Instead, what this article discusses is how Dow Corporation (the current owner of the plant) has sought to shirk responsibility and is being pilloried by the media and the people at large for the way in which its brazen attempts to override societal obligations is costing the company.

We need not look further than the recent brouhaha over Dow being one of the sponsors of the upcoming 2012 Olympics in London and the negative press that has been generated because of the worldwide protests by activists and civil society groups. Indeed, it has now become the norm for popular opinion to turn against Dow whenever the Bhopal Incident is mentioned.

Further, there has been outrage over the way in which the Public Relations for the Dow Company have been handled with many critics pointing to the callous disregard that the company has for public opinion of its handling the fallout from the Bhopal Disaster.

Notwithstanding the claims of the company that it does not have anything to do with the disaster as the previous owner of the plant is responsible, it is a basic fact in the corporate world that adequate due diligence has to be done by companies when they acquire other companies and in this case, Dow cannot evade responsibility since it very well knew the antecedents of the Union Carbide Corporation which it acquired.

Finally, the way in which Dow refuses to accept social responsibility and exhibit good corporate behavior by reaching out to the victims of the disaster speaks volumes about the way in which the company is reneging on its social responsibility. Hence, in this case at least, CSR should be something that Dow ought to practice fully and in good faith if it can claim that its conscience is clear. It is the case that Dow bears some social responsibility and it cannot turn away from this.

The case of the handling of the aftermath of the disaster is a very real test for governments and corporate watchdogs all around the world in making companies accountable and socially responsible.

In conclusion, it would be an understatement to say that Dow mishandled its social responsibility. Indeed, it can be said that the company is in fact behaving in a way that disregards commonsense notions of corporate responsibility and it does not take an expert in CSR to realize that Dow ought to be made to take its social responsibility seriously.

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Corporate Social Responsibility