Case Study Action Plan: Union Carbide Bhopal Accident

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  • Topic: Bhopal disaster, Bhopal, Union Carbide
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Case Study Action Plan: Union Carbide Bhopal accident
Learning Team A: Michael Proffitt, Amanda Garrity, Sean Riedel, Cippy Seidler & La Shonta Fuller University of Phoenix
PHL 323/Ethics in Management


Union Carbide
In December of 1984 controversy surrounded Union Carbide, a chemical and polymer company founded in 1917, when the company had a poisonous gas leak from their pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. (Union Carbide Corporation, 2011) This incident killed thousands of people, and injured many more. The company reacted with genuine concern but the incident became a public relations and financial nightmare for Union Carbide. This disaster raised some very serious ethical issues as well such as careless controls, a sub-standard facility and safety measures, reduced staff, and suppressed information. Numerous lawsuits followed including civil and criminal cases that are still pending. This essay includes a description and analysis of the facts surrounding this incident and an assessment of potential alternatives that the company could have taken to minimize the damage that was inflicted. It incorporates the selection of the most viable alternative and makes future recommendations for Union Carbide related to a code of ethics and conduct.

Start of the crisis
Union Carbide’s leak of gas in Bhopal began with a list of internal safety violations and safety breakdowns. One of the chemicals that were manufactured in the plant was Methyl Isocyanate (M.I.C.), which is highly toxic and unstable. Specific safety precautions that were in place were ignored or failed. For example, when the initial leak was discovered, employees ignored it because they had previous leaks in the past. (Browning, 1993) According to Jackson Browning, the former Vice-President of Health, Safety and Environmental Programs for Union Carbide Corporation, the shift supervisor was notified but he did not respond since it was his tea time. (1993) A domino effect ensued. The relief tank gave way and a large volume of toxic gas covered the adjoining shantytowns and beyond. There were safety measures in place for controlling a major leak. All were tried and all failed because of mechanical problems, procedural errors or general incompetence. There were well-known safety concerns in the plant that were ignored or cut due to economic reasons. The safety precations in place in Union Carbide’s USA plants were not in place in Bhopal. Union Carbide disputes the cause of the event and states that leak was caused by a sabatuer. (Bhopal, 2011). Regardless of where it started, the disaster was allowed to happen because of safety breakdowns.

Root causes and ethical issues:

Lack of oversight & safety issues
The ethical issues involved in this disaster were numerous. Most were ethical issues were decisions based on financial benefit over the safety of the human population and the environment. As key players in this disaster, the Americans ignored what could happen, the Indians allowed it to happen and the employees were left in the middle to fend for themselves. The three main root causes of this incident are lack of oversight (including the American-Indian relationships), lack of safety measures and the ignorance of the surrounding community. The lack of oversight by the American Union Carbide with respect to the running of the plant played a large role in this challenge. “Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) owned, operated and managed {the Bhopal plant} on a daily basis. UCIL was an Indian company in which Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) held just over half the stock. The other stockholders included Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India” (Bhopal, 2011). Because the area was one of the poorest areas in the country, the Indian government had a financial interest in keeping this plant running regardless of the known dangers. “Rules are often bent or altered to attract foreign...
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