The road to disaster ends here

Feature story - 2 September, 2002
Dow Chemicals plant in Mumbai, India, the Earth Summit and the voice of the people.

Activists remind Dow that it is responsible for the ongoing disaster in Bhopal.

Despite failing to clean up Bhopal after buying Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals continues with the business of selling chemicals and avoiding a history it would rather see forgotten. Since purchasing Union Carbide in 2001 Dow refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal nearly 18 years ago.

Even today, more than 30 people continue to die every month from diseases related to the toxic gas leak in Bhopal and over 150,000 were chronically ill. It is an ongoing disaster and manifestations of new diseases such as cancer and birth defects in new borns among the exposed population tells us that the tragedy may well continue for the next 30 years.

In recent weeks Dow has been discovering that Bhopal cannot be easily swept under the carpet. Despite suspected pressure from the US and Dow, a Bhopal court recently threw out a claim by the Indian Government to get the charges of culpable homicide against Warren Anderson reduced to mere negligence. Anderson was the CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster. Then it was revealed that after years evading justice hiding in the US, Anderson was discovered living in luxury on Long Island. Annual membership of his local tennis club alone is three times what a few of the survivors of the disaster have received in compensation for a life time of suffering.

Local activists are not going to let Dow forget Bhopal. Activists marched on the Indian headquarters of Dow in Mumbai. They held banners outside the HQ demanding Dow take real action to help Bhopal. While these concerned citizens are taking to the streets in India, activists from around the world are being excluded from the Earth Summit in South Africa. On the other hand corporate interest are given the red carpet treatment and easy access to governments and the negotiations.

Governments are discussing making corporations more accountable for their actions across the globe. A strong commitment to corporate accountability with tough penalties for offenders would help ensure there is never another Bhopal. However this is highly unlikely because corporations such as Dow are busy lobbying in the corridors of power to ensure that they just have to voluntarily say they will try and be responsible towards people and the environment.

Of course that means when another avoidable disaster does happen corporations can just say "sorry - we'll try and ensure it does not happen again" and avoid any penalties. Not for the first time big business and money wins against the will of the people, kept at arms length by razor wire and police in Johannesburg.