Dow's hidden collection

Dow's fashion show visited by Bhopal survivors

Feature story - 21 September, 2004
At the opening of the Premier Vision textile exhibition in Paris, activists dressed in black t-shirts - each one revealing the faces of Bhopal victims - confronted Dow Chemical as the company presented its new fibre, XLA. Dow Chemical is responsible for the 1984 disaster in the Indian city of Bhopal - a tragedy that still continues, even twenty years later.

Greenpeace displays a banner with pictures of the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster-Bhopal- at the opening of an international textile exhibition in Paris, where DOW Chemical, the entity responsible for the 1984 disaster presented a new fibre called XLA. We're asking asking Dow Chemical to face its moral and financial responsibilities before investing in new markets.

During the Dow launch, our activists displayed a massive banner showing pictures of the world's worst industrial disaster and distributed 4,000 flyers regarding the company's corporate irresponsibility. Along with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal - an International coalition of Bhopal survivors and International NGOs campaigning for justice in Bhopal - we demand that Dow accepts full liability for the ongoing disaster in Bhopal.

At first, Dow representatives claimed that their textile launch had nothing to do with corporate accountability, and refused to meet any of the Bhopal survivors - suggesting that Dow cares more about its new line of fabrics than the plight of thousands of Bhopalis.

But then, a delegation from Dow France arrived, and quickly agreed to meet our team and the young Bhopal victims. During the meeting, the General Manager of Dow France, Pierre-Jean Brochand, promised to answer survivors' questions on what Dow will do about the clean up of the site.

"They were really surprised - Dow really didn't expect us to show up at a textile show. But then we were astonished to find them taking such a proactive stance. Most of the time Dow try to avoid us - this time they seemed to have been softened up, and a little threatened by our sudden appearance. The outcome was that we managed to me M. Brochand, who has promised to get us answers in the next few days. We need to know what they're going to do about the clean up of Bhopal - and what they're not going to do," said Greenpeace France campaigner Aurele Clemencin, who was at the meeting.

The Bhopal disaster occured on 3 December 1984, when more than 40 tonnes of poisonous gases leaked from a storage tank at a Union Carbide (now owned by Dow) pesticide factory into the heart of Bhopal, immediately killing 8,000 people. In the last twenty years, another 20,000 people have died from illnesses caused by the disaster. Survivors and their children are still dealing with the long-term health effects, including cancer, tuberculosis, birth defects and chronic fevers. In June 2004, the Government of India submitted a statement to the New York District Court on the Bhopal contamination clean up case, asking Union Carbide to carry out the Bhopal plant-site remediation.

"The people affected by the disaster now live in the shadow of an ongoing environmental and health catastrophe. The banner that carries the faces of the Bhopali victims reveals the hidden collection of Dow - the real story of Bhopal after twenty years. We, the people of Bhopal have suffered for 20 years now and it is disheartening to discover that instead of taking responsibility for cleaning up the polluted disaster site in Bhopal and offering medical assistance to the ailing survivors, Dow is busy making profits." Said Rani Niloufer, one of the Bhopal survivor who met with Dow. Rani was born the year of the disaster, and still suffers from the effects.

Dow should pay for the health treatments of the survivors, and clean up both the large stockpiles of dangerous poisons and the contaminated underground water left behind at the accident site. Our activists have worked in Bhopal since 1999. Back then, a when a team of our scientists worked with Bhopal community groups, analysing the severity and extent of the contamination on and around the factory site. We found severe contamination of both land and water supplies by heavy metals and chlorinated chemicals.

"Dow investors, and all those who will buy this fabric, should be aware that Dow has blood on their hands and no new textile will help them hide their crimes in Bhopal. Only when they pay for all the survivors' health treatments and clean up the poisonous site, will justice be done," added Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace campaigner from India protesting today in Paris.

Will Dow really answer the questions of the Bhopal victims? Stay tuned to find out...