Greenpeace activists and Bhopal residents placed a monument at the Dow headoffice in Terneuzen, Netherlands.
A group of socially responsible investment firms, with combined
assets valued at $13 billion, are urging Dow Chemical Company to
address the ongoing economic, health and environmental liabilities
stemming from a poisonous gas leak in Bhopal, India in 1984, which
has killed and injured tens of thousands of people.
The investors, Trillium Asset Management, Domini Social
Investments, Calvert Group and others, sent a letter to Dow's Chief
Executive Officer (CEO), Michael Parker and board Chair, William
Stavropoulos, asking them to "continue dialogue with
representatives of Bhopal citizens groups, to take their claims
seriously, and to work towards a mutually acceptable solution."
The letter comes as the chemical industry is gathering in New
York for the 13th annual Salomon Smith Barney Chemical Conference,
which will feature a presentation by Parker. "I can not think of a
more fitting occasion to deliver this letter than at a conference
in which the future of the chemical industry in the U.S. will be
discussed," said Steve Lippman of Trillium Asset Management.
"On the 18th anniversary of arguably the world's largest
industrial disaster, and at a time when the public has never been
more concerned about corporate responsibility, Dow must address the
ongoing problems of the citizens of Bhopal. Even after all these
years, children born to survivors suffer debilitating illnesses,
and mothers exposed to contaminated drinking water carry mercury in
their breast milk."
In February 2001, Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide, the
owners of the pesticide plant in Bhopal during the accident.
Already this year, Dow has settled asbestos lawsuits filed against
Union Carbide in the US - part of the liabilities it assumed as a
result of the Carbide buyout - but it has so far refused to take
any responsibility for the pending liabilities connected to the
Bhopal disaster. This includes a Class Action in New York and an
ongoing criminal case in the Indian courts.
Following the asbestos litigation, Dow's stock fell a dramatic
£7 billion dollars due to investor fears of further damages.
A warrant for the arrest of Union Carbide's ex-CEO Warren
Anderson on charges of "culpable homicide" has been out since 1992,
charges that were reaffirmed by the Central Magistrates Court,
Bhopal, in August. India's Home Affairs Minister and Foreign
Affairs Minister confirmed in October that India will formally ask
for Anderson's extradition from the US.
India's Central Bureau of Investigation also announced in August
that it would move to name Dow Chemical in the Bhopal criminal case
in place of Union Carbide. The Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, of
which Bhopal is the capital, followed this by saying that it would
ask the Indian courts to compel Dow Chemical to pay for the clean
up of the contamination polluting the soil and ground water around
the abandoned factory.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal has long been
pressing Union Carbide, and now Dow, to provide for adequate health
care for gas survivors, and to clean up hundreds of tonnes of toxic
waste that was abandoned at the factory site by Union Carbide when
it fled Bhopal after the disaster. Two days ago, on the 18th
anniversary of the disaster, over 200 women from Bhopal made a
procession through central Bombay and delivered soil and water
contaminated by the toxic waste at the site, to Dow Chemical's
headquarters in India. The women also delivered 4,000 brooms to the
company with a message to Dow that it must clean up its mess in
Dow, whose $28 billion in annual sales make it the world's
largest chemical manufacturer, has recently associated itself with
a number of prominent 'sustainable development' initiatives,
including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development
and the chemical industry's own 'Responsible Care' programme of
self-regulation. 'Responsible Care', which was developed through a
partnership of Union Carbide and Dow in the immediate aftermath of
the Bhopal disaster has, as one of its abiding principles, the
promise "to work with others to resolve problems associated with
past handling and disposal practices".
The poisonous gas leak at the Bhopal pesticide factory in 1984
left 8,000 people dead within three days. To date, more than 20,000
have died from ongoing health problems associated with exposure to
the lethal gases, and up to 150,000 survivors are chronically ill.
Much of the abandoned factory remains, with tons of toxic chemicals
left on site, leaching into the soil and contaminating some of the
communities' drinking water. Survivors do not have adequate health
care, and received an average of USD$500 each from a settlement
negotiated by the Indian government with Union Carbide without the
survivors' consent. The sum is barely enough to cover medical
expenses for five years.
"It's not surprising that investment firms are becoming
increasingly concerned about Dow's continued failure to accept its
pending liabilities in Bhopal. Questions over its integrity and
ethics are bound to increase while people in Bhopal will continue
to be poisoned daily. Dow needs to respond to these concerns by
acting as the good corporate citizen it claims to be and cleaning
up Bhopal," said Delcio Rodrigues, Greenpeace International
campaigner in Bhopal.