Protesting at a Dow plant in Italy.
Rashida Bee, from the International Campaign for Justice in
Bhopal, and Mohammad Ali Quaisser, a doctor at the Sambhavana
hospital in Bhopal, were hoping to have a chat with executives in
the Italian head office of Dow in Milan. Dow Italy had recently
refused a request for a meeting with Greenpeace, following company
policy. But today, the Bhopal survivors succeeded in entering the
Dow building and delivering their message.
Maybe the people at Dow felt a small twinge of guilt or a
feeling of responsibility, or maybe it was that that very moment
the crew of the MV Esperanza were occupying a Dow plant in Livorno,
some 250 km away - climbing up to put banners on one of the tanks
and across the front gate. It might even have been that the Dow
executives heard about our activists meeting with the plant
manager, and a representative of the plant workers, to encourage
solidarity with the victims of the disaster.
Whatever the reason, Rashida and Mohamman were able to meet with
members of the senior management in the Italian head office of Dow,
in Milan, to demand that Dow pay its enormous debt to the people of
Bhopal - who to this day, 18 years after the disaster, still watch
friends and family get sick and die from the contamination that has
been left behind.
The Dow executives in Milan expressed their embarrassment and
understanding of the plight of the Bophalese. But they were
speaking in strictly personal terms, as the company line from their
US headquarters is to strongly and clearly refuse any moral, legal
or financial responsibility for the ongoing tragedy related to the
Union Carbide gas disaster.
What is a corporation?
A multinational like Dow, the largest chemical company in the
world, is made of humans who wake up every morning, drink a cup of
tea or coffee and go to work. But the way things are set up today,
it makes little difference how well intentioned these people are.
Corporations are free to move to those parts of the world with
badly enforced environmental and labour regulations, where they can
pollute people and ecosystems, abuse human rights or engage in
questionable practices - their only goals being maximising profits
while externalising costs to poor people and the environment.
Union Carbide, who operated the pesticide factory in Bhopal, and
was later purchased in its entirety by Dow, decided to save some
money by ignoring safety procedures in the plant, which were
required at a similar plant in the US. After the accident, it
abandoned the factory site, leaving vast amounts of chemical
pollutants that continue to kill people living near the
Had the disaster occurred in a country with appropriate
regulations, the company would have been forced to pay proper
compensation to the victims, as well as to clean up after their
mess. Instead it got away with paying just US$400 to about half the
people who demanded compensation for injuries, and about US$1,250
each to the 14,410 persons who claimed death compensation.
Towards a system of corporate accountability
Dow Chemical needs to clean up the Bhopal factory site at their
expense, secure long-term medical treatment for survivors,
compensate the victims and provide clean drinking water to people
in Bhopal forced to drink contaminated water every day.
In the bigger
picture, the world needs an international instrument to hold
corporations criminally and financially liable for damage and
compensation for victims of industrial disasters and damage to the
Corporations like Dow and others, including the individuals
responsible for illicit or immoral decisions, must not be allowed
to hide behind legal clutter, or to unduly influence or buy
governments to avoid their responsibilities and promote
To this end, the Esperanza is touring the Mediterranean - to
expose toxic pollution in the region and to call on governments to
protect their citizens by holding polluters accountable for
violating people's fundamental right to a toxics free