Bhopal Gas Tragedy Communication Failures Case Study

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This disaster raised some very serious ethical issues as well such as careless In the eyes of the government, the company could do no wrong” (Browning, 1993).

As in many ethical challenges in business, the lack of oversight or lack of enforcement of policies contribute to the dilemma.

This led to an overall impression of "stonewalling" by the company and thus reduced the effectiveness of their overall attachment strategy (Shrivastava, p. Some note that given the horrific nature of the tragedy, Union Carbide's strategy was about as effective as could be expected under the circumstance, (Higgins, 1987).

Others however, point to Union Carbide's lack of preparation in planning for a crisis (Shrivastava, p.99) which led to a lack of available information and a perception that the company was unsympathetic to the victims. Union Carbide's leadership was faced with what could be described as a mix of crisis types (Coombs, 1995, p. The Bhopal incident contained elements of both an accident in that the events at the plant were beyond the company's ability to entirely control and transgression in that allegations of the plant's lax safety and maintenance standards directly contributed to the deadly chemical leak.

More than 85% of the print and television news stories on the Bhopal incident centered on the events themselves (i.e.

the chemical release, number of deaths/injuries, immediate relief efforts, etc.) while approximately 15% focused on the larger framing of the event (i.e.The Indian government had a vested interest in doing all it could to shift blame and responsibility for the accident to Union Carbide in order to divert attention away from the government's failure to properly monitor safety conditions at the plant (Shrivastava, 1987).Union Carbide had no means of established communication with its plant in India.Failure to have a Crisis Communication Response Team (on-call) was a major factor in the media's immediate perception that Union Carbide was not forthcoming with information (Higgins, 1987).Union Carbide failed to account for the fact that the Government of India might have substantially different communication goals than the corporation had.The Company maintained that sabotage was also a possibility (p. Initial news coverage centered on: the events at the plant; the loss of life; and rescue efforts by the Indian Government.Subsequent coverage also focused on the cause of the accident, the economic effect on Union Carbide and its collective corporate response to the tragedy (Wilkins, 1987). There was considerable debate within the Union Carbide leadership regarding what tactics and responses to take to the Bhopal tragedy (Kurzman, 1987). This might serve to limit future liability as the inevitable flood of lawsuits started to roll in and protect the corporation's stock price.Initially, Union Carbide's corporate communications staff strongly recommended the company be as open as possible with all the information they had at hand. Corporate attorneys for Union Carbide were adamant that Anderson's presence in Bhopal would only serve to tighten the connection between Union Carbide and the Bhopal tragedy. based corporation only owned about half the publicly traded stock in the Indian operation, the best strategy would be to distance Union Carbide' leadership in the U. Warren Anderson rejected this advice (Kurzman, 1987, p. He felt the scope of the tragedy was so significant and already connected in the mind of the public with Union Carbide that efforts to distance the Company from the tragedy were futile.However, Union Carbide had traditionally been reticent in dealing with the media (p. In addition, the company's attorneys recommended that information should be withheld that may possibly implicate or confirm the company's responsibility for the Bhopal leak and hence increase its potential legal liability (p. The Corporation's leadership was divided between attempting to distance itself from the events in Bhopal (Avoidance Strategy) and providing maximum information about the event, as well as direct support to the victims and full cooperation with the Indian Government (Attachment/Forgiveness Strategies). They and several senior executives continued to advise that, seeing how the Bhopal Plant was actually operated by a subsidiary of Union Carbide (Union Carbide India Limited) (Shrivastava, 1987, p. Anderson traveled to India and was promptly arrested by Indian authorities upon arrival (Kurzman, p.108).Union Carbide's initial crisis communication strategy centered on the financial costs of the tragedy, limiting its legal/financial responsibility for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, the future of the corporation, the stockholders and Wall Street analysts who valued the company's stock and pressure from worldwide consumer and environmental groups (Higgins, 1985, p.14).The difficulty in getting accurate information from India severely hampered Union Carbide's ability to get information out quickly to the media. Communication scholars and those who study crisis management remain divided about the overall effectiveness of Union carbide's communication strategy regarding the Bhopal incident (Wilkins, 1987; Higgins, 1987).

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