Ethical Issues at Union Carbide

Ethical Issues at Union Carbide

Ethical issues at Union Carbide: This incident is known as Bhopal gas tragedy and is considered as India’s one of the major industrial disasters.

Case: The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster.Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. The highly toxic substance made its way into and around the small towns located near the plant.


Write a report on the disaster in relation to the ethical position of the parent US Union Carbide company.


An accident took place on 3 December, 1984 at night in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. This incident is known as Bhopal gas tragedy and is considered as India’s one of the major industrial disasters. This disaster happened when at least forty tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a toxic gas, leaked from Union Carbide India Limited’s pesticide plant and spread out in the whole city. This deadly gas killed app. 3,800 people immediately and affected many workers. The estimated death number ranges from 15,000 to 20,000 (Castagna, 2020). Those who survived had suffered from health issues like vision impairment, respiratory issues, or other chronic effects (Shrivastav, 2011). This report will focus onto the ethical stand of the US-Union Carbide Company (UCC) regarding the Bhopal gas tragedy.

History & Background

Union Carbide India Limited is a chemical company that manufactures pesticides, equipments, and other chemicals products. The parent company of UCIL is US owned Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). UCIL was regulated by UCC (50.9%) and Indian Government (49.1%). Many incidents took place before the event of Bhopal tragedy. The first ever leakage accident of the company happened in 1976. Another incident happened in 1981 where a worker of the plant was exposed with a very toxic phosgene gas. He took off his gas mask out of panic that led him to inhale phosgene gas. This caused him to die within 72 hours (Mittal, 2015). Afterward, in 1982, another accident happened with a chemical engineer as he was exposed to liquid methyl isocyanate. As a result, his body burnt about 30%. In that year in October, another leakage of methyl isocyanate happened. Two workers were heavily exposed to that leakage and the MIC supervisor had suffered from burnt. Also, many other event of leakage happened during the time of 1983 -1984 (Hussain, 2018). They were chlorine, phosgene, methyl isocyanate, or combination. In short, a lot of occurrences happened in this plant but Bhopal tragedy was the worst industrial disaster. In 1984, the company was trying to reduce the production of Sevin, an insecticide, using methyl isocyanate, to its quarter amount due to decrease in demand. The negligence in the production of Sevin led the incident of gas leakage.

The accident & its causes

Many of the causes can be detected behind the Bhopal gas tragedy. They can be divided into two sections (Hussain, 2018):

  • Direct cause
  • Indirect cause

Direct cause

On 2nd December night prior the accident happened the supervisor of another unit was transferred to MIC plant in the evening. He was not well-known of this plant. He then instructed the workers to connect the water hose pipe with the system for a couple of hours. But, he forgot to instruct them about slip blind. Water entered the tank containing MIC results a thermal runway reaction. As a consequence, MIC burst through the tank and started spreading. It was noticed by the workers at midnight but it was too late for them to stop the spreading of MIC. In addition, the amount of MIC in the atmosphere was increasing alarmingly. This was the main cause directly related to the accident (Hussain, 2018).

Indirect cause

Besides direct causes, that was discussed above, some other causes indirectly related to this accident. They are going to be discussed below:

  1. Defective factory design
  2. Corporate negligence

Defective Factory Design- After the investigation it was revealed that there were defects in the plant design. These faults were responsible for Bhopal accident. The plant used to store the MIC in large tanks rather than storing in small barrels. They stored MIC in two defective tanks. Also, the safety system of MIC in plant was malfunctioning. It can also be noted that there were proper safety equipments that were required by the engineers due to financial issue (Mittal, 2015). Additionally, the plant was dependent on manual operation rather than any computerized security alarm system which is found in Virginia plant. It was due to the replacement of the manager. An Indian manager took the place of US manager. He was instructed to reduce the expenses as the company was facing loss. Therefore, he cut down costing in safety part. These reasons altogether are responsible for the accident (Hussain, 2018).

Corporate NegligenceThe term negligence refers as the failure to provide the care appropriately that a prudent person would have behaved in that situation. When it is corporate negligence, it means the failure of any industry or corporation in taking proper safety measures for a particular work. The investigation report showed that there was negligence towards the work. Alongside the weak facilities and maintenance, unqualified workforce, poor attitudes regarding safety issue and negligence among the workers that resulted water to mix in the MIC tanks are found as the causes responsible for the accident (Bhattacharya, 2012). Also the followings can be taken into consideration:

  • The vent gas scrubber was dysfunctional
  • The cooling system was malfunctioning
  • There was no tank pressure found
  • There was high percentage of concentration of chloroform in the tank
  • Presence of corrosion due to the presence of iron
  • The temperature of the tank was not logged

From the above discussion, we can say that negligence was found in case of safety protection which led to the occurrence of this disaster.

Effects of the Bhopal disaster

Effect of the disaster was catastrophic. Not only the humans but also the trees and other animals were affected with this gas too. Physicians were not very informed of the accurate treatment of MIC at that time. Due to the spreading of the gas, an immediate effect was seen. The inhabitants woke up with sudden coughing, vomiting, eye irritation, unable to take breath, suffocation etc. The survivors after the incident had ulcers, vision impairment, respiratory difficulties, genetic problem, impaired reasoning. These were short term effect. Other were suffered from long term effect which are increasing neonatal and stillbirth mortality rate, pregnancy loss, lung function abnormalities, chronic conjunctivitis, increased chormosomal abnormalities (Shrivastav, 2011). The Supreme Court of India was ordered the state to provide Bhopal with purified drinking water as the water was contaminated after that in 2004. Also, the court convicted the former executives of the company for being responsible for this disaster.

Liability & Ethics of the parent US Union Carbide Company

As we know that vicarious liability is the concept in which a person is responsible for wrong action. In this issue, the parent company of UCIL, UCC, is also responsible for this disaster since they were regulating the plant. As discussed above, it was found out that the parent company was not focusing onto the safety requirements and deficiencies. Moreover, they ignored some of the basic guidelines important for establishing a plant (Liability of a Parent Company, 2020). According to a report, the direct cause is not the only thing to be highlighted. There were other factors that facilitated the condition to make a disaster. Factors like lack of proper designing of the plant, insufficient emergency services, unqualified workers, lack of knowledge regarding the toxicity of the chemicals, emergency antidote system deficiency, and negligence about the consequences and to inform the people about this (Gupta, 2013). Therefore, it can be said that UCC along with UCIL are responsible for this tragedy.

Ethics defines the disciplines and principles that deal with morality, the concept of good and bad and sets some values. This case (Ethical Issues at Union Carbide) also indicates the violation of ethical issues. Considering as a citizen, we have some obligation towards others. Everyone has to accept it. Four principles of environment have been proposed in this regards (Brink, 2014):

  • The precautionary principle
  • Sustainability
  • Human rights to life, health and environments
  • The golden rule

These principles (Ethical Issues at Union Carbide) must be considered before establishing an industry. The owner must abide by these principles. But UCC and UCIL did not follow the principles resulting violating the principles and thousand of death. The precautionary principle is violated by producing Sevin, an insecticide, in the critical and risky situation. Moreover, they also violated the sustainability principle that states no harm to any object and person in nature that are being produced by the chemical industry.

The company UCC was not only responsible partially for this accident but also tried to hide their fault. They were also showed their negligence in their responsibility after the accident. They disagreed with the long term effect of MIC and disavowed to compensate. This kind of attitude proves the irresponsibility of the company (Bhattacharya, 2012).


Analysis of the Bhopal tragedy has come with many findings and indicates the failure in management system. Bhopal tragedy is a warning for an industry to pay attention while manufacturing chemical substance for both human and environment (Mittal, 2015). From the incident it is clear that before establishing a plant, a company must prepare a proper planning and designing of the plant, must make sure proper safety measures for the employees, pointing out the hazardous substances and make extra caution for the employee as well as the environment, informing the employees the harmful effect of the products and emergency action during any occurrence (Shrivastav, 2011). Some points should be emphasized for instance; negligence must be avoided, make sure the employees are skillful enough, making a strong policy regarding such issue to reduce the risk in future, increase in the investment in safety measures, making sure no ethical principles are violated. If these are followed, then we can say the further risks of such detrimental accident will be reduced.

Answer of the case 1:

Requirement 1 Answer: Advise Raymond on Possible Remedies

Requirement 2 Answer: Consequences if Samantha had paid Raymond

Requirement 3 Answer: Consequences if Raymond Requested

Requirement 4: What advice do you have for Samantha?


  1. Bhattacharya, S., 2012. Right to Compensation and Bhopal Gas Tragedy. SSRN Electronic Journal, pp.635-638.
  2. Brink, D., 2014. Principles and Intuitions in Ethics: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Ethical Issues at Union Carbide, 124(4), pp.665-694.
  3. Dhyani, A., Rehalia, A. and Hussain, Y., 2018. Case Study: Bhopal Gas Tragedy. International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer Science and Software Engineering, 8(4), p.22.
  4. Di Nardo, M., Madonna, M., Murino, T. and Castagna, F., 2020. Modelling a Safety Management System Using System Dynamics at the Bhopal Incident. Ethical Issues at Union Carbide, 10(3), p.903.
  5. GRUR International, 2020. Liability of a Parent Company. 69(2), pp.188-195.
  6. Idowu, S., Capaldi, N., Zu, L. and Gupta, A., 2013. Encyclopedia Of Corporate Social Responsibility. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
  7. Mittal, A., 2015. Retrospection of Bhopal gas tragedy. Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry, 98(9), pp.1079-1083.
  8. Shrivastav, R., 2011. Bhopal Gas Disaster: Review on Health Effects of Methyl Isocyanate. Research Journal of Environmental Sciences, 5(2), pp.150-156.

Written by

Md. Shadequr Rahaman

Email: [email protected]


Ethical Issues at Union Carbide

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