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Two informative articles about Bhopal and Dow

rikki | 04.01.2003 13:36

Recent short articles about Dow Chemicals refusal to compensate victims of Bhopal chemical explosion and pollution tragedy which has cost the lives of upwards of 20,000 people.


DOW Chemicals, a company heavily criticised for the chemical weapons it supplied in the Vietnam war, is in trouble again - this time over the deaths of 20,000 people in India.

On 3 December it issued a press release headed: DOW ADDRESSES BHOPAL OUTRAGE, EXPLAINS POSITION.

The position is that in 1984 a pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, owned by Union Carbide, sprung a leak. Poisonous gases and chemicals killed 5,000 people almost at once and another 15,000 (at least) when the chemicals seeped into the water supply. Union Carbide was later taken over by Dow.

The Dow press release quoted Michael D. Parker, Dow's president, as saying: "We are being portrayed as a heartless giant which doesn't care about the 20,000 lives lost due to Bhopal over the years. But that just isn't true. Many individuals within Dow feel tremendous sorrow about the Bhopal disaster, and many individuals within Dow would like the corporation to admit its responsibility, so that the public can then decide on the best course of action, as is appropriate in any democracy. Unfortunately we have responsibilities to our shareholders and our industry colleagues that make action on Bhopal impossible. And being clear about this has been a very big step".

The release also quoted Dow spokesperson Bob Questra as saying: "We understand the anger and hurt. But Dow does not and cannot acknowledge responsibility. If we did, not only would we be required to expend many billions of dollars on clean-up and compensation - much worse the public could then point to Dow as a precedent in other big cases. 'They took responsibility; why can't you?' Amoco, BP, Shell and Exxon all have ongoing problems that would just get much worse. We are unable to set this precedent for ourselves and the industry, much as we would like to see the issue resolved in a humane and satisfying way."

The Eye assumed the press release was a spoof, a heartless satire on the hypocrisy of multinational companies. So we contacted Dow headquarters and asked if the release could possibly be authentic. Back came an immediate and irritated reply to the effect that of course the release was genuine and the company was proud of it.

NIGHT OF THE GAS by Luke David New Internationalist 352 December 2002

The man allegedly responsible for the gas leak, Warren Anderson, former chief executive of Union Carbide, has never stood trial. He relaxes in his million-dollar house in New York State, still managing to evade the courts, despite a request for his extradition from Bhopal magistrates to the US Government. He is charged with culpable homicide and, if found guilty, could serve up to 20 years in prlson.

Last July the Indian Government appealed to the Supreme Court to reduce the charges against him from culpable homicide to negligence. If you think this seems an odd response to the contempt he and Union Carbide have shown the Indian justice system, then you should know the following. The new owner of Union Carbide is American giant Dow Chemical, which is one of India's largest foreign investors. Reducing the charges would have effectively extinguished the case against Warren Anderson and absolved Dow from the responsibility for cleaning up the factory, thus wooing Dow's foreign investment.

A further point to consider when judging the Government's record on Bhopal is its proposal to use $150 million of the original compensation payment. They wanted to spend this on the richer non gas-affected areas of Bhopal, populated mainly by wealthy Hindus - presumably to gain votes for the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP - at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised gas victims. If it were not for mass demonstrations by the victims last July, both of these proposals would, no doubt, have become reality.

Campaigners and volunteers continue to work tirelessly - 18 years after the disaster - to help the gas victims secure medical treatment and compensation. Yet for all the campaigning there is little sign of real action in the courts or, more importantly, on the ground.