Taiwan shifts from pollution victim to perpetrator
The China Post Monday, January 9, 2017, 12:01 am TWN
By Sun Hsin Hsuan -- In April 2016, a high court rejected an appeal to increase the fine against the Radio Company of America (RCA), imposed on the firm after it caused one of the worst industrial pollution disasters in Taiwan's history 24 years earlier.
The appellants were seeking to have the fine raised almost ten-fold, from NT$560 million to NT$5.58 billion.
For years, RCA employees in Taiwan were exposed to cancer-causing pollutants. The employees were not given appropriate safety equipment, nor were they informed of the risks attached to their work.
Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 employees out of a workforce of 20,000 developed cancer. 216 have since died.
In the same month as the rejected appeal, the waters along a 200-kilometer coastal stretch in central Vietnam were found severely polluted.
The pollutants killed tons of fish, destroying the environment, and along with it the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of residents.
But the source of what Vietnam's prime minister called the "worst environmental disaster this country has ever seen," was not a Western multinational, but a Taiwanese-owned steel plant and subsidiary of petrochemical conglomerate Formosa Plastics.
The two incidents, though separated by almost 30 years, bear striking similarities.
The only difference now, is that Taiwan has turned from victim into persecutor.
Suppressed Protests, Rejected Lawsuits, Restored Operations
In late June of 2016, Formosa Plastics apologized to the Vietnamese people with a bow from company representatives.
The firm admitted to polluting the waters — albeit after denying any wrongdoing for two months.
Vietnam's central government slapped Formosa Plastics with a US$500 million fine to compensate residents.
But until now, those affected by the incident have yet to receive a single dollar in compensation, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the polluted waters are now clean.
Meanwhile, the steel plant has resumed operations, despite continued protests from locals and overseas Vietnamese.
In the eight months since, tons of dead fish have continued to wash ashore.
Human rights activist and priest Peter Nguyen Van Hung, speaking with The China Post on Friday, also claimed that two Formosa Plastics employees tasked with diving under water and checking on waste-releasing pipelines had died.
According to the Vietnam Express newspaper, several peaceful protests outside the Ha Tinh steel plant and Formosa Plastics headquarters in Vietnam turned violent as police officers and private security beat demonstrators, while citizen journalists were detained for days on grounds of "inciting social instability by taking photos of the protest to post on social media."
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