I received a phone call on Tuesday telling me that another fire had occurred at Formosa Plastics Corp’s sixth naphtha cracker complex. News tickers on TV stations mentioned the fire while I thought about the people who reside along the coast in Mailiao (麥寮) and Taisi (台西) townships and how they would have had trouble sleeping the night before. Unfortunately, for residents of these areas, this has been a constant nightmare ever since industrial accidents of all sizes started to occur last year.
After a fire broke out in the pipes at the complex on May 12 and the Yunlin County government was forced to suspend operations at the plant, Forumosa Plastics has constantly reiterated how hard it is trying to improve industrial safety. In addition, because repeated suspensions of operations have caused upstream and downstream businesses to incur losses, it has been trying to get the time it can resume operations moved forward. On July 11, Yunlin County Government’s Economic Affairs Department approved Nan Ya Plastics Corp’s application to resume operations at its second and third factories at the Haifeng (海豐) compound in Mailiao. During recent examination meetings, there were also signs that other parts of operations that have been suspended will be allowed to resume soon. However, a fire has started yet again.
The majority of people who live along Yunlin County’s coastal townships near the sixth naphtha cracker complex do not know what an API is, nor do they know the difference between an NFPA and an AIChE. However, they do know that quality of life, health and safety are very important.
Those who were able to may have moved away from the area long ago, because even after so many accidents, they have not seen any of the improvements promised by senior executives at Formosa Plastics. The only thing they have received is pitifully minuscule compensation, which has led many people to say the group has taken advantage of local residents.
All large companies around the world are scrutinized by society to see whether they are socially responsible. The sixth naphtha cracker complex is Formosa Plastics’ biggest production base and if it really cares about corporate social responsibility (CSR), it should make it easier for local residents to obtain information pertaining to industrial safety and environmental protection.
It should even allow local residents to take a more direct part in testing and monitoring. In its 2009 report on CSR, Formosa Plastics listed a series of achievements in terms of industrial safety and environmental protection during 2009, but these claims now seem absurd and contradictory.
The government’s support of capitalists has caused companies to come up short in communication with, and concern for, local communities. Formosa Plastics should stop focusing only on the wishes of the central government’s economic agencies and begin to pay real attention to the interests of all stakeholders, especially the issues that concern local residents and company employees, since front-line employees are often the most direct victims of these industrial accidents.
After this latest incident, the resumption of operations at the plant may be postponed further, which could cause shareholders to incur more losses.
However, I would like to remind Formosa Plastics’ management that if it really wants to gain social trust, it needs to first ask its front-line employees and local residents near their factories how long it has been since they slept well at night.