Bhopal disaster - 20 years on (part III)

The fight is global

Feature story - December 2, 2004
On different continents in two very different communities, Paul and Ruby are battling Dow Chemical's refusal to take responsibility for its legacy of pollution, shady dealings and disregard for human life. In Part 3 of our feature, we hear from Paul and Ruby as they strengthen their resolve to keep up the fight - wherever they are in the world.

Local families play beside the river unaware that it is being polluted by effluent from Dow's plant up stream.

 

Ruby

The world is progressing at a new speed these days - but does anyone stop to think what sacrifices are made at the altar of this progress? We cannot even begin to estimate the many things that we have sacrificed in the name of progress; technology may have made our lives simpler, but the very same technology can be misused for destructive purposes.

Some companies are focussed only on their profits, to the extent of being inhuman - and Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) is the prime example of these. In all its years of operating in Bhopal, the company focussed entirely on its own profits, regardless of the cost of human life.

In my college in Bhopal, my friends and I spend most of our free time discussing the corporate crimes of Union Carbide in Bhopal. Most of my classmates are residents of other states, and knew very little about Bhopal before coming here. In fact, they only knew what the newspapers had told them about the Bhopal gas disaster. But I have related my story to them, and revealed the fact that the disaster was not an accident, but a premeditated acceptance of the 'risks' and a callous approach towards safety systems that 'cost too much' to be kept in operation. Once they have heard the full story, there is an almost unanimous understanding that none of us would ever want to work for a firm like this one!

In all its years of operating in Bhopal, the company focussed entirely on its own profits, regardless of the cost of human life



 

 

My classmates and I recently attended a seminar on health problems of survivors. My classmates were very moved by this seminar, and offered to help out with putting up posters, inviting people to the subsequent programmes and generally spreading the word. In fact, they all told me that they were keen to help our campaign for justice in Bhopal whenever they can.

One day, we were all sitting around and talking about our experience with this seminar, when someone came up with a brilliant suggestion - why not form a youth club to support the Bhopal campaign, and to oppose the work of irresponsible companies like Dow in other parts of the country! I knew this would prove to be a brilliant idea, because the power of youth joining our campaign would make a world of difference to the campaign. It will also ensure that the campaign gets another lease of life, with a new generation joining in to take it forward.

When I first read Paul's story, it seemed almost eerie - to think that he is going through almost the same kind of battle that our community is, and that too, because of the same company. His story and mine seem disturbingly similar. When I read his story, it seemed as if were both living in the same city.

Paul's story also strengthened my resolve further - I am now convinced that the battle against Dow Chemicals needs to be fought on the global scale, and spread the word, involve more youngsters in the campaign, and fight them more effectively.

I sincerely wish Paul and his community all the very best in their struggle. Maybe we can swap emails with ideas and tactics to help both our campaigns. While writing my own serial stories, and reading Paul's stories, I have realized the global nature of our campaign. I also feel like I have found a friend in Paul, learnt about his life, and presented our two different, yet similar stories to the millions of readers who log onto the Greenpeace website from around the world.

I can only hope that in 20 years time, when we are both in our 40's we can reflect on the day Dow accepted its responsibilities and did the right thing in Bhopal and Michigan.

Paul

Since I found out Dow Chemical had quietly been polluting the area around my home for years I have been constantly amazed by this company. I have to give it credit for the amount of hard work and millions of dollars it spends in order to make the public believe it is a responsible company. Rather than tackle the pollution problems of its own making it does all it can to avoid this. Its story is the same be it here in the US or in India.

When it was discovered Dow had polluted areas downstream of its [Michigan] plant with levels 9000 times the state clean up levels the Dow denial machine went into overdrive. First it denied it caused the pollution. Next it hired the best PR firms and lawyers and lobbied local politicians to ensure it didn't get the blame. Even so it was proved that Dow caused the pollution. Oops! So then it spends more money on PR, lawyers, and lobbying politicians to say dioxin is harmless. But test results prove levels are dangerously high. Dow now spends money on more PR, trying to spin the test results. It even tried but failed to get the state of Michigan to raise the clean up levels, in an attempt to instantly make the problem disappear.

Shame on Dow for unethical business practices and shame on their board members who have denied and denied for years the truth



All this denial, lobbying and muddying of these dirty waters costs Dow millions. Just imagine if it had owned up straight away and spent this cash on tackling the problem. That is what the affected communities and I are fighting for. We don't have millions of dollars or fancy lawyers but we have the most powerful weapon - the truth on our side. I am campaigning for a clean up of the river, and ideally medical monitoring of all contaminated individuals' health. Would it have been smart to admit to the dioxin contamination and clean up the problem at the outset, so saving Dow millions? Yes, for sure! I don't understand Dow's thinking, it must have some egotistical management that doesn't like to be proven wrong, maybe that is why they refuse to clean up the river. If only women ran Dow, right?

Not everything Dow does is wrong and some people in the area have benefited from Dow's presence. But I firmly believe that Dow can make a profit without trashing the environment and harming peoples health. Shame on Dow for unethical business practices and shame on their board members who have denied and denied for years the truth and refuse to except law and moral responsibility for their business actions. Couldn't Dow just take one years profits and instead of giving it to lawyers, PR firms, politicians or shareholders, resolve the problems of its own making? That is all I ask and many others the world over would like to know. Is that a lot to ask for? I think not.

The opposing side will probably say, people like me don't understand business and just want to harm Dow. But it seems Dow can do this itself with poor judgments involving the use of its money. I am not trying to destroy businesses; I just feel a business should have some moral values, at least one moral value. A business shouldn't destroy the lives of others in order to make a few extra bucks. No person or company should do that. A company should respect its workers and their communities.

Ruby shouldn't have to wait 20 years or more for justice after the disaster in Bhopal. People in Michigan shouldn't have to fight against a company and the state in order to enforce state laws. People in government have obviously failed both the citizens of Bhopal and in Michigan, they bend over for Dow at any chance they get, thinking of only themselves. How many more people have to die in Bhopal in order for clean up and how many more silent and slow deaths caused by dioxin pollution do the citizens of Michigan have to face? Sadly enough for me and Ruby, it seems both of our countries value profits over precious life. One can make and create all the money he or she desires, but one can't recreate an aunt, uncle, brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, or mom and dad after they are gone.

More

Read part one of the feature to understand the terrible events that lead to Ruby and Paul and thier communities being affected by toxic waste.

Read part two of the feature where Paul and Ruby discuss what motivated them to become active in the fight for justice in both communities by battling against a huge chemical corporation.

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