20131213 EDITORIAL: Polluters must be held accountable
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EDITORIAL: Polluters must be held accountable

By far the most popular word in the nation this year has been jia (假) — fake, false bogus or artificial. Over the past year, rice, edible oils, bread and other food products have been adulterated. This has shocked Taiwanese, who no longer know which products can be trusted.

Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE) was recently accused of discharging polluted wastewater. It can no longer hide behind the false image of being “best in the world” and a “green business.”

Chi Po-lin’s (齊柏林) documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) showed how long-term discharge of wastewater from heavy industry has polluted the Houjin River (後勁溪), turning its mud yellow.

How can the nation have sunk this low?

The ASE’s K7 plant was given a series of fines two years ago, after it was discovered that it was violating regulations, although the fines were only between NT$100,000 and NT$600,000. Compared with the tens of billions of New Taiwan dollars the world’s largest IC packaging and testing firm makes every year, such fines are a drop in the bucket.

Now that the Kaohsiung City Government Health Bureau is saying it will order the plant closed, ASE is likely to start feeling the pinch. The company’s chairman rushed back to Taiwan to put out the fire, but all he can do is try to limit the damage to the firm’s reputation. As a world leader, ASE is an important provider of components to manufacturers of computers, mobile phones and flat panels. Closing the K7 plant could create a break in the supply chain for mobile devices.

ASE is No. 1 in the world in its field, so it should be much better able to manage its wastewater than small and medium-sized businesses. Not surprisingly, Chi’s response to the incident has been to say that “it’s difficult to understand” and to wonder “why would they sacrifice our living environment by polluting rivers just to make a few more dollars?”

To save on costs, ASE and other manufacturers have externalized pollution treatment, which leaves land and rivers at risk. Farmers, fishermen and the general public are left to bear the consequences of a complete lack of corporate responsibility and ethics.

The government knows that these manufacturers are discharging wastewater through covered pipes and air pollution during the night. It is only pretending not to know because it is unwilling to carry out its responsibilities.

When the news about ASE was revealed, the Changhua County Government immediately issued a list of a dozen companies that are allegedly discharging industrial wastewater that is polluting fields and produce. The government clearly knows what is going on — it is just hoping that no one else does.

The public have seen through the deceit from the government and industries, and it is fed up. The government must rid itself of the attitude that it can cover up the chaos and instead face up to the rampant fraud among local industry. It revoked the license for Chyuan Shun Food Enterprise Co’s Shanshui Rice brand for mislabeling mixed rice, and the courts forced it to compensate consumers. This showed the government was willing to deal with the issue head-on and rid Taiwan of cheating and adulteration. It acted similarly toward Top Pot Bakery, Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co and Flavor Full Food Inc, and this is how it should act toward ASE.

Only by dealing with what is bogus can the truth be pursued.

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