We watched “The Yes Men Fix the World” in our viewing session this week. One part of the film shows the Yes Men pretending to be Dow Chemical Corporation representatives at a financial services conference in London. Their aim was to raise awareness about the chemical companies failure to compensate victims from the Union Carbide factory gas leak in Bhopal, India. 5,000 people died and 100,000 acquired lifelong illnesses. Dow bought Union Carbide in 1999 and promised to compensate victims of Union Carbide’s wrong doings. But, Dow overlooked the victims of Bhopal. The Yes Men’s presentation, “Risk, Reality, Reason: End-To-End Standards and Acceptable Risk,” discusses how Dow supposedly “evaluates the cash value of human life.” It highlights Dow’s “Acceptable Risk” calculator which helps companies decide which risks are acceptable. One of the slides has a “market value” bar graph with two cartoon human figures: an Indian not wearing clothes and an American wearing a suite. It shows the Indian having a lower market value than the American. This satirical image shows how some big businesses don’t care about how the production of their products impacts workers and people in less developed nations. At the end of the conference, a businessman thanks the Yes Men for their “refreshing” presentation. He tells the Yes Men that he is weighing human costs against potential profit on a new product. Laughingly he exclaims: “Whichever way you do this you’re going to cost some lives, but if you make some money in the process then it’s acceptable!” His attitude towards factory workers shocked me. I already was aware that some businesses don’t make factory workers’ health a priority. But, the interaction between the Yes Men and the businessman exposed just how careless some companies can be towards their workers’ wellbeing. For the businessman, profits justify worker casualties. He is so money hungry that he fails to see his workers as human beings. Little does he care that the profit he makes is blood on his hands.
The film got me thinking about which companies have the worst human rights and environmental impact histories. A non-profit international human rights organization called Global Exchange created a list of the “most wanted” companies. It examined factory working conditions, human rights violations and the environmental impact of producing goods. Also, in 2005 the International Labor Rights Forum created a list of “The 14 worst Corporate Evildoers.” Please check out this lists! We need to be more conscious of the environmental and human costs of producing the goods we buy.