Former employees of the US company Radio Corporation America (RCA) who have been fighting for justice for nearly two decades as alleged victims of pollution produced by the company, and are awaiting yet another court hearing, released a book in front of the Taipei District Court yesterday that recounts their struggles.
Having created production plants in several locations in Taiwan since the 1970s, RCA was discovered to have been emitting toxic substances from its plant in Taoyuan County in 1994, severely polluting the soil and groundwater.
In 1998, media reported on the high percentage of cancer patients among former RCA employees and residents in the area around the plant, leading former employees to suspect that their deteriorating health conditions may be linked to exposure to toxic substances released by the plant.
According to official statistics released in 2001, at least 1,375 workers from RCA’s Taoyuan plant were found to have cancer. From that number, 216 had passed away before the data were released.
Since 1998, 12 former RCA employees — with an average age of 60 — have been going back and forth in the courts, seeking justice for the harm that they say their former employer caused to them. However, they have been disappointed so far.
“The company has neither dealt with the contaminated sites, nor has it proposed plans for compensations,” said Joseph Lin (林永頌), an attorney that represents the former employees, adding: “The company even transferred its assets out of the country.”
With his hands trembling and voice shaking, the 85-year-old Hsin Hung-mao (辛鴻茂) said that he thought his suffering had ended after he moved to Taiwan to escape the Chinese Civil War between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party, and getting married to his wife, Chang Hsiu-yueh (張秀月).
However, his wife died of cancer after 13 years of working at RCA.
“At the time, I thought about leaving with her,” Hsin said.
However, he stayed on, and has been fighting the legal battle on behalf of his wife ever since.
“I never thought that I would enter another war after moving to Taiwan,” he said.
In addition to the RCA, Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Accidents and Diseases specialist Ho Kuang-wan (賀光卍) also accused the government of being irresponsible, saying it failed to provide adequate assistance for the former employees in their legal battle.
“This book is not just the voice of the unheard — it is also a documentation of the brutal exploitation of workers on the road to modernity in Taiwan,” Ho said.
“These people who have contributed their whole life to Taiwan’s development have been devalued as if they were less than human beings,” he said.