How low can Dow go?

Dow sues penniless Bhopal survivors

Feature story - December 23, 2002
In a stunning example of corporate insensibility, Dow Chemical, the world´s largest chemical company, and new owner of Union Carbide, is to sue survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. While the site of the disaster lies covered in toxic waste and survivors struggle with continuing ill health and deadly pollution from the site, Dow has decided to add to their woes with an Indian lawsuit.

Victims of the Bhopal disaster protest outside Dow's headquarters in Bombay.

Yes that's right - the very people Dow should be helping are now facing a lawsuit from one of the world most powerful corporations. Why are they acting in such an amazingly perverse manner? On December 2nd a peaceful march of 200 women survivors from Bhopal delivered toxic waste from the abandoned Carbide factory back to Dow's Indian headquarters in Bombay with the demand that Dow take responsibility for the disaster and clean up the site. Dow obviously has other ideas because they are suing survivors for about US$10,000 for "loss of work". That's US$10,000 compensation demanded for a two hour peaceful protest where only one Dow employee briefly ventured out of the Mumbai corporate business park to meet the women protestors.

Satyu, a Bhopal activist and one of the protestors charged by Dow highlighted how ridiculous this "loss of work" claim is: "Thousands of us lost their lives, many more have not been able to do our jobs for the last 18 years and 150,000 people in Bhopal are still suffering ill health because of the Union Carbide gas tragedy in 1984. Even today people die and children are born with gas related diseases. It is outrageous that Dow is charging us US$10,000 and tries to shut us down from seeking justice from them".

The damages demanded by Dow will amount to about 10 years income for the survivors charged but is less than one days sales revenue for Dow. Also Dow is seeking to silence protest by demanding that survivors be banned from holding protests within 100m of Dow offices in India.

Dow has just appointed a new CEO, William Stravopoulos, who engineered the Dow merger with Union Carbide in 2001. If this lawsuit is how he intends to deal with the ongoing Bhopal disaster then it will be a huge public relations own goal. Dow proudly proclaims it slogan as "living improved daily". How does that fit with the suing of poor protestors who have a real grievance with the company?