Monday, April 30, 2012

Formosa (FPG) suppressing academic freedom and freedom of speech?

Formosa Plastics at Mailiao in Yunlin County. In the foreground is recently reclaimed land in known pink dolphin habitat.

Has petrochemical giant Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) embarked on a campaign against some of the very principles that define democracy and basic human rights? Whether or not FPG ascribes to these hallowed values of common humanity isn't known. What is known, however, is that FPG has filed a lawsuit against Professor Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔) of National Chung Hsing University’s (NCHU) department of environmental engineering because they claim that in a report that he said emissions from FPG's sixth naphtha cracker plant in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) resulted in a higher cancer occurrence rate amongst nearby residents which has injured FPG's reputation.

Lets be honest! What reputation does FPG have? Go ask the good citizens of Taiwan what FPG's reputation is and you'll undoubtedly hear the words "pollution," "fires," and "cancer rates" in the majority of answers; if not all. Lets call a spade a spade. How many fires have they had down at FPG in Mailiao over the past two and a half years which have emitted huge uncontrolled toxic clouds of smoke into the surrounding area? Folks have last count. The latest one was on 17 April, wasn't it? It would seem there's always some drama going on at FPG. Lets face it! The folks at the top of FPG weren't the winners of the infamous Black Planet Award in 2009 for nothing. According to ethecon, the organisation which presents both the Blue Planet and infamous Black Planet Awards, "the Black Planet Award condemns individuals (people) who have contributed to the destruction and downfall of our Blue Planet in an outrageous way." Thus, many folks must be scratching their heads this morning trying to figure out how last year during a meeting of the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) environmental impact assessment committee in which Professor Tsuang Ben-jei reported that hazardous heavy metals and carcinogenic substances contained in the exhaust gas emitted by the company’s sixth naphtha cracker plant in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township in a higher cancer occurrence rate for nearby residents has so harmed FPG's reputation. Come on? Hasn't the the No.17 Highway which passes FPG in Mailiao been nicknamed the "Cancer Corridor" for years? Didn't FTV do a program on the high rate of cancer around the Mailiao FPG plant in December 2009? Compared to national TV, how many folks watch the proceedings of EPA meeting? Like it or not, isn't FPG's reputation linked to high levels and pollution whether they like it or not. That is the perception folks in Taiwan and a great many other places have of FPG.

So if what Professor Tsuang Ben-jei is saying is nothing new why has FPG filed a lawsuit against him claiming NT$40 million for damages to its reputation? Could it be that FPG wishes to intimidate? No, surely not! Can you think of another reason? Oh, I'm sure those clever FPG lawyers can think of many. But there are a great many very clever people that aren't buying FPG's reason. They see it as an attack on academic freedom and the right to free speech. FPG using fear to silence criticism. Using the old "kill one and scare a thousand" tactic. A large group of very prominent academics yesterday rallied behind Tsuang pledging their support. Some has even said FPG can sue them, too.

When a big rich corporation starts attacking basic freedoms it tends to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the average good citizen. Early last year those good citizens made such a fuss about the Kuokuang Petrochemical Project in Erlin just across the Jhoushui River from Mailiao that Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou was forced to step in and cancel the project. Never had the good citizens of Taiwan got quite so worked up over the petrochemical industry as over Kuokuang. And probably a lot of that anger wasn't directly against Kuokuang but rather against the petrochemical industry as a whole. FPG's string of fires likely helped drive the outrage in that one. FPG should note that. Formosa should also not forget the McLibel case. Even with money and lawyers things don't always go your way.

See Academics rally to support defendant in today's Taipei Times.

Update: FPG-Tsuang lawsuit

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