“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (least developed countries)?” wrote Lawrence Summers, the then chief economist of the World Bank, in 1991. He argued that the loss of income due to disablement or death of workers in the LDCs would have a lesser impact on the world economy. Therefore, the World Bank should encourage the shifting of the environmental burden onto the LDCs. It made economic sense to him; it makes economic sense to the World Bank and the numerous multinational corporations (MNCs) that have profited by doing just this. But what of the workers and the communities that work and live around the “dirty industries”?
This is the story of a small hill town in Tamil Nadu, India. Famous as a hill resort for those wanting to escape the Indian summer, Kodaikanal also attracted a deadly MNC which was trying to please its shareholders while abiding by the US laws. Thus came Chesebrough Ponds in 1984. This company relocated its thermometer factory from Watertown, New York and, in its 18 years of operation in Kodaikanal, manufactured 165 million thermometers that were exported back to the US and Europe. Labour is cheap in India and the laws were either not there or never mattered. It made perfect economic sense for a company to relocate poisons across oceans as it made its obscene profits.