An US based company relocated its aging mercury thermometer factory from US to a verdant hill station in the southern Tamil Nadu. Mercury is a toxic metal, which when converted into deadlier forms such as methyl mercury and released into the environment could cause tremendous health problems to the people living nearby and even far away. The factory that manufactured glass mercury thermometer for export was split into 2 main areas – the first area converted glass tubing into empty thermometers, stems and bulbs. The second area filled them with mercury, marked the scale, sealed the end, and packed. Both areas, were working with glass generated considerable quantities of scrap. Glass scrap from the first area was supposed to be sent for recycling to the glass merchants. Glass from the second area containing mercury was supposed to be first treated (crushed and heated) to recover the mercury. However, the company sold the remaining scrap to recyclers unlawfully and in breach of the company’s operating policies. All water from the plant was to be led to a dedicated effluent treatment plant. Sludge from the effluent treatment plant was to be dried, packed in plastic drums and stored in the pit on site undercover. During the investigations, it was found that the factory buried glass scrap on the site after appropriate regulatory approvals. The stream that ran through the forest below the backwall of the factory went down to the waterfalls, a popular tourist bathing site. Below the waterfalls the stream surpassed into canals flowing from the dam that irrigated lands down south. The slopes where the wastes were dumped were part of the watershed, draining water through the river which eventually landed in the plains down to a famous temple city. It was reported that between 600 and 800 workers were exposed to mercury due to unsafe working conditions and willful negligence of the management in not warning employees about the dangers of mercury. More than 20 workers between the age group 22 to 35 had died due to poisoning from the factory. Many villagers suffered various health problems due to the toxic water. Despite repeated requests by the pollution control board the company refused to provide any credible information on mercury use and its disposal at the factory. This prevented timely remedial measures. The NGOs played an important role to highlight the waste spill issue and the harm caused to the workers, citizens, and the environment. The people responsible for the breach of the company’s well laid waste disposal policy were identified and penalized. Eventually, the company was forced to suspend the manufacturing operations rendering 100s of factory personnel jobless.
Q. Discuss the various issues related to corporate governance in the caselet discussed above.
Q. As a factory manager what would be your stand on the disposal norms? Do you think your actions could prevent the untimely suspension of the factory operations?