Criticisms of Transnational Corporations 2 – damage to the environment

All of this material is relevant to the global development module – this can be used in an essay that asks you to ‘assess the role of TNCs’ or in any essay that asks you to criticise neo-liberal approaches to development, because TNCs are one of the primary agents of the neo-liberal project. You should read this in conjuction with the previous blog in this thread – I-Nightmares, Killer Coke and Sweatshops –

Corporations damaging the environment

images3One of the worst cases of both environmental and social harm is that of Union Carbide in Bhopal. In December 1984 when an explosion at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India caused toxic gas to leak into the local area. 3000 people died immediately, a further 20 000 people have died and 120 000 suffered illness as a direct result of the toxic pollution that even to this day, 25 years, later, is still seeping into the ground water which the local people have to drink. Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which should have take on liability for this, but failed to adequately clear up the pollution or compensate the victims of this tragedy. (7) (8)

A second example is the failure of Shell and Exxon Mobile to clear up the pollution of the Niger Delta – Shell in particular has been460_0___30_0_0_0_0_0_shell_skull_colour the target of sustained criticism for failing to clear up pollution of the tribal lands of the Ogoni people caused by its oil pipelines leaking – this particular case being documented in the recent film documentary ‘I’m with stupid’. (9a) (10)

The total harm done in this remote region is far in excess of the recent BP disaster off the coast of America, one recent newspaper article (12) reports that –

‘With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing.’

94300Shell claims that most of the oil spills are due to Vandalism by radical, armed militias, but the local communities claim it is because of rusting and decaying pipes. On this point, it is worth seeing the 2010 documentary film ‘Sweet Crude’ (13) – which actually follows the development of the armed militias mentioned by Shell – it turns out that protests over the combination of pollution and lack of social development following oil extraction used to be peaceful groups but following years of nothing happening, some protestors have turned to more violent tactics. The sad thing is – all they are asking for is their fare share (14)

In fairness to shell – they have provided money to the Nigerian Government which was intended to develop local areas, but given that Nigeria has one of the most corrupt governments on the planet, it is no surprise that most of this money has disappeared.

To go back to the Corporation (1), the argument is made that one of the root causes of pollution in developing countries is because TNCs are ‘externalising machines’ – In order to maintain profitability they try to externalise as many costs as they can get away with, and pollution is one obvious example of an externality. All of the above companies have been happy to let local communities bear the costs of their pollution, rather than paying for the cleanup.


(1) – a link to the homepage of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.


(2)  – A link to my blog on ‘Bhopal’ – the worst industrial accident in history – check out the links to the ‘yes men’ material – inspiring stuff! (coming soon!)


(3) – A link to ‘Belching Out the Devil – Global Adventures with Cocacola by Mark Thomas, 2008


(4) – a fact sheet outlining the history of Shell in Nigeria


(5) – web site of the DVD the age of stupid – a film about humanity polluting the planet – one chapter of which is devoted to Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta


(6) – news article outlining how oil pollution in Nigeria is far worse than that caused by the BP spill off the coast of America.


(7) – web site for the 2010 movie Sweet Crude.


(8) – a clip of local Nigerians protesting about their oil being taken and them getting nothing in return.

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