Vietnamese Reckoning: How A Corporation Got Away With Murder

Hundreds of ships litter the coast of Ha Tinh, after their owner were forced to abandon them in search of employment.

If you approached the beaches of Ha Tinh, Vietnam last April, they might have seemed silver at first, reflecting the light of the midday sun. But as you drew near, a much more gruesome image would have taken shape. Meters and meters of dead fish, heaped along the shoreline in piles of decaying white and grey. In total, nearly one hundred tons of marine life sat rotting along 200 km of coast.

On viewing this ghastly landscape, one might imagine it was the work of an angry god, or some more pervasive evil. And an evil god it may well have been, but not one which hides in the heavens. This god is called Formosa, and she demands sacrifice.

The pollution which poisoned Vietnam’s oceans was traced back to a Formosa steel plant, the largest of its kind, which is still operating in Ha Tinh. One of the divers who swam to investigate the sewage died on his way to the hospital, showing signs of heavy metal poisoning. This pollution was illegal, horrific, and intentional. It was pure, unadulterated greed that took the life of Le Van Ngay — an evil so pervasive that neither law nor humanity could contain it.

After the spill, unemployment ravaged coastal communities. The government was forced to ban fishing near the shore for months, while some areas saw tourism drop to 10% of what it had been before the spill. Without fish to catch or tourists to entertain, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homeland in search of work. Those that stayed, starved.

In the words of one fisherman, interviewed by a contact in Vietnam, “The catastrophe caused the complete failure of my family’s business.”

“The catastrophe caused the complete failure of my family’s business.”

One year after the spill, the same man reported his business has “only been worse.” He also claimed that the Formosa plant has been continuously dumping sewage for months, in spite of both a law banning pollution and an empty promise made to follow it. Another coastal worker claimed that “fish carcasses painted the sea white” just a few weeks before my source spoke with him, suggesting that pollution and death have become facts of life within the realm of Formosa. To this day the water smells foul, and the natives dare not wade into it.

But even if pollution has indeed been halted, it will still take a decade for the coast to recover. That means a decade of poverty, starvation, and suffering for coastal communities. We may not know for certain whether the pollution continues; however, Formosa has shown her willingness to throw away lives in the name of profit, and there is no reason to believe that this cruel deity, in all her corporate horror, would not strike again.

“Fish carcasses painted the sea white.”

In return for this blood sacrifice, Formosa paid a $500 million fine. While this may seem impressive, it amounts to less than 1% of Formosa’s U.S. profits alone. To make matters worse, most of this money was never given to those affected, or even to the cleanup effort. At best, the Vietnamese government has been grossly negligent. At worst, it has been incredibly corrupt. One man said frankly, “We suspect that our money has gone into someone else’s pocket.”

What hellscape do we inhabit where hundreds of thousands of lives can be ruined in the name of capital? Even with the fines and supposed new regulations, Formosa remains incredibly profitable. For this deity of unmatched cruelty, $500,000,000, one life, and decades of degradation are merely operating costs, expended in the name of further, cancerous growth.

The only reason I am even aware of this ongoing catastrophe is because an incredibly brave young woman contacted my organization and asked for our help. She lives under a government which regularly suppresses its citizens, and faced a very real danger coming to us. And she will willingly face those dangers again, and again, and again until the Formosa plant is closed and her nation’s beauty restored.

Those of us in the west may be unable to press the Vietnamese government into responsible legislation, or force Taiwan to regulate its native industries humanely. But we can rise against Formosa’s holdings in the United States. Here is a link to Formosa’s website. In the name of justice, in the name of equity, and in the name of Le Van Ngay, we must not back down. We must call, write, vote, scream, and protest until this god, this idol, this disgrace, ceases to exist.

Writer, Activist, Leftist.