Survivors of Bhopal deadly chemical disaster overshadow Dow annual meeting

Feature story - 9 May, 2002
Dow CEO called upon to accept responsibility for 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster by survivors representatives and Greenpeace at Dow AGM.

Protest on the 17th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster

Survivors of deadly Bhopal chemical disaster travelled with Greenpeace and other support organisations to Dow Chemical's annual shareholders meeting in Michigan, the United States today to confront the company on its pending liabilities.

The coalition called on Dow CEO, Michael D. Parker, to ensure Dow accepts responsibility for the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal that killed thousands and left many more with serious injuries. Dow became the world's biggest chemical company when it purchased Union Carbide in 2001 but has so far refused to accept Carbide's pending liabilities for environmental and human rights violations in Bhopal.

"Dow's ownership of Union Carbide has not changed the need for the contaminated Bhopal site to be cleaned up or for the survivors to be rehabilitated. US law doesn't absolve responsibility for contamination due to transition of ownership. A lesser standard outside the US is unconscionable," noted Dr. Mary Elizabeth Harmon, of Greenpeace. "Dow's shareholders should question the morality of a company that puts so much effort into platitudes about responsible care while paying no regard to the suffering it inflicts on people," she added.

Bhopal survivors requested a private meeting with Dow last week to discuss the issue of Bhopal but the US chemical giant refused. Despite Dow's claims that it "believe[s] in the inherent worth of people and will honour our relationships with those whom let us be part of this world" it stated that it would only be interested in making a "humanitarian gesture" to Bhopal survivors and any further discussion "would not be a productive use of anyone's time".

"It's my hope that the gravity of our situation can be understood by our willingness to travel around the world to state our case to Dow for just five minutes," said Dr. H. Trivedi, a Bhopal survivor who addressed Mr. Parker during the question and answer session of the meeting in Midland, Michigan. "How can Dow tout its dedication to corporate responsibility while turning a cold shoulder to us?" he added.

The Bhopal survivors built a replica of the memorial statue originally dedicated to the victims of the disaster and donated it to the Midland Centre for the Arts as a mark of solidarity to people living in Midland, where the Dow annual meeting is taking place. Widespread dioxin pollution has recently been discovered downstream from the Midland Dow plant and poses a serious threat to the community. At an unveiling ceremony today, Midland and Bhopal were named sister cities, united in their chemical legacies and by Dow's lack of commitment to clean up its toxic waste. Yet, unlike the people of Bhopal, Midland residents are protected to some extent under US law. Although legal procedures often delay toxic clean up, US law dictates that Dow is liable for its contamination.