In Chapter 73, Vandana Shiva discusses how developed countries export toxic waste to less developed countries since it has become economically cheaper to ship the waste than pay fees within the home country to properly dispose of it. 2,000 tons of hazardous wastes were being “generated every day in India without adequate safe disposal sites,” at the time Shiva wrote the article. Shiva argues that waste disposal trends generally favor developed countries by padding their profit margins even more, while the less developed countries suffer from illnesses and deaths exacerbated by inadequate disposal sites.
In 1984, 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people who were living in a slum colony next to the plant. A report from the US National Library of Medicine clocked “estimates of the number of people killed in the first few days by the plume from the plant ran as high as 10,000, with 15,000 to 20,000 premature deaths reportedly occurring in the subsequent two decades.” The plant was owned by Union Carbide Corporation and was manufacturing a pesticide commonly used throughout Asia. Indian Government-controlled banks and the Indian public held a 49.1 percent stake in UCC at the time of the disaster; the company was sold to Dow Chemical in 2001.
Almost immediately after the disaster, UCC began to distance itself from taking responsibility for the disaster. It took until 1996 to reach a settlement and until the early 2000s for the all of the $460 million to be released. It took until 2010 for former employees of UCC to be charged with negligence. Survivors argue that the efforts to clean up the site and support victims was slowed down by the Dow Chemical purchase.
The Yes-Men are a performance art group who con their way on news segments, into conferences, and other various media and pose as spokespeople for various corporations. They act out a fiction wherein corporations do the right thing for people over profits. In the case of Bophal, the Yes-Man act as a spokeperson, saying that after 20 years of ignoring victims, Dow would liquidate UCC — “this headache for the world.” UCC a $12 billion asset for Dow at the time. By liquidating the company, Dow would be able to provide “more than $500 per victim, which is all that they’ve seen.”
The clip goes on, highlighting the absurdity of a situation where thousands of people died due to corporate negligence and thousands more people continued to suffer due to corporate indifference and lack of accountability. Through the act of performance art with an added dash of humor and irreverence, the Yes-Men effectively expose corrupt corporate practices by imagining an alternative, non-corrupt reality. The alternative reality forces us to look more critically at how corporations are actually acting.