A recent U.S. court ruling that forced Monsanto to pay out more than $289 million to school a groundskeeper who got terminal cancer after using its Roundup weed killer is reigniting calls by Vietnam for the company to compensate victims of its Agent Orange chemical.
Monsanto supplied Agent Orange to the U.S. military during the Vietnam war. The chemical herbicide and defoliant was used to clear out tropical jungles in the country to strip Viet Cong guerrilla fighters of hiding places and food sources. In the years from 1961 to 1971, the American military sprayed roughly 12 million gallons of it across 30,000 miles in the southern part of Vietnam.
Agent Orange contains the toxin dioxin, which has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other fatal illnesses. Millions of the Vietnamese people are still suffering from the effects of exposure to the chemical.
The August 11 ruling that held Monsanto accountable for the damage that Roundup caused has given Agent Orange victims new hope of one day being compensated for their suffering.
Vietnam Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nguyen Phuong Tra stated: “The verdict serves as a legal precedent which refutes previous claims that the herbicides made by Monsanto and other chemical corporations in the U.S. and provided for the U.S. army in the war are harmless.”
According to the government of Vietnam, around 4.8 million people in the country were exposed to the substance. Three million have dealt with debilitating illnesses such as neural damage, reproductive failures, and cancer. Mental impairment and deformities can even be seen in the third and fourth generations of those who were originally exposed to dioxin.
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According to studies, just 80 grams of dioxin in a water supply could kill off a city of 8 million people; nearly 370 kilograms of dioxin were in the amount of Agent Orange that was sprayed in Southern Vietnam during the war.
Past attempts to hold Monsanto accountable have been unsuccessful in VietnamIn 2004, a group known as the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other companies that supplied the toxin, but their case was rejected on three occasions on the grounds that it had no legal precedent as the firms were simply acting on orders given by the American government.
Moreover, it was claimed at the time that there wasn’t enough evidence to link Agent Orange to health problems. Now, studies carried out by the governments of Vietnam and the U.S. have linked exposure to the chemical to more than 10 different diseases. In addition, scientific advancements have made it easier to identify whether a person’s illness was caused by dioxin.
Relentlessly pursuing justiceThe group says it will never give up on its quest for justice. Last year, a Monsanto tribunal in The Hague found the firm guilty of ecocide and causing long-term negative consequences on various nations’ ecosystems, including Vietnam. They reached their conclusion following a six-month investigation and two days of testimony. Not surprisingly, Monsanto rejected that ruling.
Even though they claim not to be responsible, Monsanto reached an out-of-court settlement compensating American war veterans who had filed a $180 million class action lawsuit against the firm. It may be too little, too late, but many Vietnamese people will be hoping that they can successfully hold the firm accountable for its role in the atrocities they’ve suffered.
Sources for this article include: