Academic journal article Social Justice

Controlling Chemical Hazards: Global Governance, National Regulation?

Academic journal article Social Justice

Controlling Chemical Hazards: Global Governance, National Regulation?

Article excerpt

IN THE THREE DECADES AFTER BHOPAL, THE ALREADY OCCURRING GLOBALIZATION of chemical production has intensified, causing harm and creating hazard in peripheral as well as core countries. The globalization of chemical production is but one part of an increasing globalization of economic activity and industrial production, which also entails globalized threats to worker safety and health, not only in manufacturing but also in agriculture due to the use of pesticides: "Every day approximately 1,020 workers die because of occupational accidents and more than 960,000 workers get hurt because of accidents. It should be pointed out that occupational accidents involving under four days of absence are not included in this figure. Each day 5,330 people in the world die because of work-related diseases" (Hamalainen, Saarela, and Takala 2009, 19). A purported decrease in state capacity to regulate and discipline capital has accompanied this globalization process, with increased flows of capital, information, technology, and (some) labor escaping from the state's control (Yeates 2001). A "race to the bottom" in occupational, environmental, and safety regulation was feared, with analysts reporting the export of hazardous industries from core countries to "pollution havens" to avoid the costs of increased regulation. The ability by transnational corporations (TNCs) to switch location to countries that offered the best package deal was said to undermine the ability of states to regulate the hazards of production as well as other issues (Ives 1985, Leonard 1988, La Dou 1992, Eskeland and Harrison 1997, Hall 2009).

A growth in global governance has emerged in response to the inability of states to control the environmental and other effects of national and transnational economic activity (Selin 2010). This global governance includes on the one hand a growing number of intergovernmental agreements, and on the other hand increased governance by non-governmental agencies: the latter includes industry self-regulation and attempts by NGOs and partnerships between NGOs and industry groups to impose codes of conduct. These attempts at global governance have been criticized as aspirational and ineffective, due to their voluntary nature and their lack of compliance, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms. The case of hazardous chemicals allows us to examine and evaluate a particular area of global governance: industry self-regulation, in the form of the Responsible Care (RC) program, and the work of an array of intergovernmental agreements and conventions supposedly regulating the hazards and harms of transnational chemical production and trade.

This article aims to provide an empirical account and assessment of the current regulation of hazardous chemicals at the transnational and national levels. The first section looks at the global spread of the chemical industry, accompanied by increasing chemical accidents and environmental pollution. It then turns to look at international attempts to regulate chemical safety by both international organizations and the chemical industry itself. For the former, the article examines four international agreements or conventions, followed by a case study of one such international agreement, the Basel Convention. For the latter, it looks at the industry's self-regulating arrangement called Responsible Care and the attempt to develop a global industry standard, the Responsible Care Global Charter. These international agreements are found to suffer from problems relating to compliance, monitoring, and enforcement, as well as the failure of nation states to adopt and implement them. At the same time, industry self-regulation also suffers from major drawbacks: studies have found no evidence that membership in such programs correlates with improvements in company performance, and monitoring and compliance are problematic. The article proceeds to examine the regulation of major industrial hazards, including a listing of major accidents that demonstrates the failure of regulation to protect workers and the general public from such hazards. …

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