By the Self-help Association for RCA Employees Suffering from Cancer and the
Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Accidents and Diseases
Employees Demand Justice and Compensation from RCA
Thirty years ago when foreign investments flowed into Taiwan the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), an American-based multinational company and Number One domestic electronic appliance brand name in America, established factories in Taiwan in 1960.
The company was found pouring toxic waste and organic solvents into illegally-dug wells, creating polluted land, water resources, and thousands of employees suffering, dying, or dead from various kinds of cancer.
RCA Taiwan stopped Production and closed down the factories in 1992. Between twenty and thirty thousand people were employed by RCA Taiwan at that time, and it was considered a model export company.
But in 1994, Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration revealed serious pollution caused by RCA working practices. Further investigations showed that the company had been systematically dumping organic solvents directly into the ground, polluting and destroying the soil and water for years as part of its normal working operations.
Underground water, even as far as two kilometres away from the factory, was found to be polluted with trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene. The levels of these dangerous chemicals were far higher than standards permitted for drinking water.
Thousands of employees who left RCA years ago, are now suffering from cancer including cancer of the liver, lungs, rectum, stomach, bones, nasopharyngeal (nose and throat), lymph glands, and breast. Others suffer from tumours.
According to medical experts, the cancer rate for ex-RCA employees is between twenty and one hundred times higher than other people.
The generic term for organic pollutants like trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene is Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPL), which affect human bodies when breathed in, touched, eaten, or drunk.
Former employees of the factory recall with a sigh, “No wonder those foreign supervisors all drank bottled water. Only we silly workers drank toxic water every day. We lived and ate inside the factory. Even the water for showers was poisonous!”
RCA Taiwan was bought first by General Electric Company (GEC) and then Thomson, both of which are international hi-tech corporations.
RCA set up manufacturing plants in forty-five countries, employing as many as fifty-five thousand employees. Its products are sold in more than one hundred countries. This diversity gave the Environmental Protection Administration in Taiwan leverage to pressure RCA to investigate polluted land and water in the factory site located in Taoyuan in 1996. RCA then spent more than NT$2 billion (about US$65 million) on soil treatment.
However the number of employees suffering from cancer keeps climbing; ex-RCA people die of cancer every year, yet they have received no compensation for occupational illnesses from RCA.
Former employees angrily say, “To RCA human lives are worth less than dirt!” Of course human lives are worth less than dirt from the enterprise’s point of view.
Unlike humans, land is ‘capital’ that will appreciate in value to be sold and reused. Take RCA’s Taoyuan site for example, Thomson registered the land for business use before selling it at a price of NT$16 billion (about US$300 million).
Yet RCA tries to project an environmentally-friendly image to the world by emphasising conservation of global resources by recycling as much material from production as possible, and this has been quite effective.
Ironically however, what we see in Taiwan is a different story. To save costs in Taoyuan, this transnational enterprise did not even bother to process chemical waste before dumping it. This is bad news, but is made much worse because RCA informed nobody, so employees unknowingly worked with toxic chemicals which they touched, breathed, and drank day after day.
This is not an isolated case. International enterprises profit from countries and leave environmental pollution, disasters, and occupational injuries or death behind without even providing compensation.
Workers are always among the front line of victims of economic development . The RCA case is an international issue. We support these brave labourers who insist on fighting despite serious illnesses.
The Self-help Association for RCA Employees Suffering from Cancer was established in 1998. Among the membership, 1,059 people are now suffering from cancer, 216 have already died from cancer, and 102 have various kinds of tumour. The Self-help Association plans to form a coalition of workers’ rights groups and environmental groups in Taiwan and around the world, co-operate with medical professionals and attorneys, and demand the justice and compensation they deserve from RCA.
Source: ALU Issue No. 39, April - June 2001