Dow Liable for Bhopal Disaster?

India, from

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Interesting piece in Business Week about the Bhopal disaster:

For nearly a quarter century, the name Bhopal has been synonymous with the dangers of industrialization. In the wee hours of Dec. 3, 1984, a toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal. Since then, some 20,000 people have died from the contamination, including thousands on the day of the disaster.

Today, Bhopal is also coming to mean endless litigation. Although a civil case on compensation for victims was settled 19 years ago, Indian courts have yet to rule on several other issues involving Bhopal. And the continued legal wrangling now threatens to trip up a company that had nothing to do with Bhopal in the first place: Dow Chemical (DOW).

What’s Dow’s connection to Bhopal? Seven years ago, Dow bought what was left of Union Carbide, the company that owned the Bhopal plant. Even though Union Carbide had sold off the unit that ran the Bhopal facility a decade before Dow bought in, many Indians believe Dow should now take responsibility for the accident. Even if Dow never has to pay any damages, Bhopal has become a thorny public-relations issue for the company. It faces increased scrutiny of its activities, and some people—both in India and abroad—believe Dow may ultimately have to help clean up the site, where toxins have leaked into groundwater that’s used by some 25,000 people.

The event at Bhopal has remained a terrifying spectre to me ever since it happened… hearing about it generated one of the most memorable feelings of violent horror I can remember from my childhood. The disaster to me is wrenchingly symptomatic of the horrors of globalization, economic colonialism, corporatism and modern chemistry.


One Response to “Dow Liable for Bhopal Disaster?”

  1. Colin Toogood Says:

    Dow IS responsible for the toxic contamination in Bhopal and here’s why:

    Union Carbide is a 100% owned subsidiary of Dow with Dow executives sitting on its board. Under the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which applies in both the US and in India, Dow is responsible for UCC’s pollution.
    The settlement, made by UCC to the gas victims, DOES NOT cover liabilities arising from subsequent and continued contamination or the contamination of the groundwater. Furthermore, in 1992, the Indian Government re-instated the charges against UCC. Union Carbide Corporation, and the CEO at the time, Warren Anderson, are wanted in India on CRIMINAL charges of culpable homicide.
    As above, UCC is a 100% owned subsidiary of Dow and, as such Dow are responsible for these matters. Dow is happy to continue profiting from UCC’s products and processes in India even while, as a fugitive, UCC is barred from doing business there. Dow tried to sell Carbide processes to Indian Oil and has done the same with Reliance; UCC used third parties to sell its goods in material (possibly criminal?) breach of the ban.
    Dow was even caught bribing Indian officials to register its pesticides (at least one of which is banned for domestic use in the US), and has made $1 billion worth of investment conditional on extra legal intervention in the contamination suit.
    Nice bunch!

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