Vedan is getting away with it, no matter what

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Despite all the bad publicity surrounding the pollution scandal, Vedan should be happy that its name is repeated so many times in the media.

So far, its behavior is not of a company that has done something seriously wrong, but that everything is business as usual. It has good reasons to believe this.

The company knows it has to pay compensation to the farmers and obviously, it hopes to get through the scandal with the lowest level of financial burden possible through negotiations.

The bottom line in this sorry affair is this: Vedan loses nothing in this whole episode.

The Taiwanese monosodium-glutamate maker is asked to simply pay back what it took from the farmers. (In reality, the sum in question does not approach the extent of damage caused and suffered). If it loses the lawsuit, Vedan is responsible for paying the compensation money and other associated fees. Even if that happens, it won't face much difficulty in handling the financial burden. It is more than likely that its contingency fund already has most of the money ready.

Vedan must be subjected to stricter punishment. Otherwise, a bad precedent will be set for other companies who need not take their social and environmental responsibilities seriously. The consequences of this could be overwhelming.

So many reports have been put out about the money that Vedan supposes to pay. A study authorized by the Institute of Environment and Natural Resources found in December 2009 that Vedan was responsible for 77 percent of the pollution then plaguing the Thi Vai River.

The report said Vedan should compensate farmers in Dong Nai Province, Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province and Ho Chi Minh City with a total of VND1.7 trillion (US$89.2 million) for the damages, including the destruction of aquaculture farms and damage to land crops on the banks of the river.

But the company rejected the figures about the extent of damage as "groundless".

The farmers have not received anything and the company has made every effort to delay paying its dues.

One might wonder if this bad publicity could turn out to be a bonus for the company. Note that Vedan is still popular in the Vietnamese market, not in other Asian markets.

In many countries, when a similar corporate scandal happens, the company ends up in a much worse position.

Look at the case of the oil giant under great pressure to pay millions of dollars for the oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

That pressure need not come from the legal system. It comes from society as a whole. The public can turn away from that company's products. The media can continue advocating for the victims' rights.

In Vietnam, customers and the general public aren't being protected enough.

They are a highly vulnerable species.

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