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Responsible Care: The 'progressive minority'

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CMA documents reveal that while a minority of chemical executives kept pushing the industry to walk the Responsible Care talk, they were stymied by most companies' refusal to voluntarily clean up their act or work with the communities affected by their operations and emissions.

Most chemical companies, according to the CMA's Public Advisory Panel merely "tolerated" the "progressive minority" and saw Responsible Care "as 'just another program,' rather than . . . a change . . . that would be both profound and discernible." (view entire document) The committee pointed to the failure of many companies to make any effort to communicate with their communities (view entire document) and in many quarters "a strong bias against external review" of progress by independent parties. (view entire document)

Responsible Care requires member companies to engage in community dialogue, and recommends that facilities form Community Advisory Panels (CAPs). Some 400 facilities have formed CAPs. These panels establish dialogue with local community and opinion leaders in regular meetings in order to help companies anticipate and mold public opinion. (view entire document)

But the effectiveness of CAPs is limited by design. These advisory panels have handpicked memberships and often exclude community activists, have no decision-making authority and have no consistent or guaranteed access to data about the facility's operation. Many activists took part for months in CAP meetings in good faith, only to find that there was no real change in the industry, and felt used and angry.

Participants reported that CAP meetings offered mostly one-way, manipulative communication from the industry's hired consultants. As one West Virginia activist told Friends of the Earth regarding her invited participation in several local CAPs: "They are talking me to death!"

Responsible Care advocates also have had to contend with company executives' constant concerns about liability. Some companies worried that if RC set up "unobtainable objectives" for a company, it might be more liable to lawsuits from chemically injured workers and citizens, who could argue in court that the company had failed to meet its own health and safety goals. (view entire document) CMA tried to reassure companies that while there were legal risks entailed in RC, these risks were "manageable," and warned that the potential liabilities of not complying were greater. (view entire document)

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last updated: march.27.2009

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