Exposure: Portrait of a Corporate Crime

A Greenpeace photographic exhibition at the Earth Summit

Press release - 27 August, 2002

I remember making three-tired graves. In those three to four days we must have buried more than 4,000 persons, says Mohammad Aziz as he looks at these skeletons that have come out of the graves.

As the Earth Summit negotiations go into full swing, Greenpeace today launch a touring exhibition of photographs of Bhopal by world-renowned Magnum photographer, Raghu Rai (1), to urge governments to commit to an international agreement on corporate accountability and liability to stem the tide of corporate environmental abuses.

The exhibit entitled ?Exposure: Portrait of a Corporate Crime?, offers a unique insight into the human and environmental tragedy that has engulfed the Indian city of Bhopal since December 1984, when an explosion at Union Carbide?s pesticide plant released lethal gases into the city, causing the world?s worst industrial disaster.

?More than any other corporate induced disasters, Bhopal highlights the failure of corporations to observe basic standards of human decency. It also reflects the humiliating failure on the part of governments to protect and uphold public welfare against corporate transgressions,? said Von Hernandez of Greenpeace International.

To date, 20,000 people have died from gas exposure and the effects of the disaster are now extending into the next generation. 150,000 of the survivors are chronically ill and communities are drinking contaminated groundwater. The American company responded by abandoning the contaminated plant, paying the survivors inadequate compensation and refusing to accept liability for the disaster. Eighteen years after the disaster, the abandoned Carbide plant is still littered with stockpiles of hazardous waste and obsolete pesticides.

In 2001, Dow Chemical merged with Union Carbide and became the world's biggest chemical company. In buying Union Carbide, Dow not only bought the company?s assets but also its liabilities. Dow-Carbide, so far has shown no sign of taking responsibility over the Bhopal legacy.

Satianath Sarangi founder of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic, which has been providing medical aid and assistance to victims of the disaster, said, ?Each picture in this exhibition is a testimony in black and white against the greed and malevolence of corporate criminals such as Dow-Union Carbide. The pictures also remind us that justice remains more elusive than ever for the victims of this disaster.?

The opening of the exhibit in Johannesburg is supported by a Greenpeace report which compiles cases of corporate crime from various industrial sectors, including the chemical, forest, mining, genetic engineering, nuclear and oil industries, from different parts of the world (2). It also includes other cases of ongoing toxic disasters such as the recent flooding of a dioxin-contaminated factory in the Czech Republic owned by the company Spolana.(3).

The cases demonstrate how transnational corporations have learned to downplay damage and elude criminal and/or civil liability. They also illustrate the need for governments, who are ultimately responsible for public welfare, to force corporations to uphold the law and become more accountable to the public.

Greenpeace and Bhopal survivors organisations are campaigning to ensure Dow Chemical cleans up the factory site at its expense, as would be required in the U.S., provide long-term medical treatment for the survivors of the poison gas leak, ensure medical and economic compensation for the 2nd and emerging 3rd generation victims, provide clean drinking

water to communities that are forced to consume contaminated groundwater and punish the guilty. (4)

Read the Corporate Crimes report http://www.greenpeace.org/reports/

Notes: 1) Born in 1942, Raghu Rai has been amazing the photographic world for over thirty years with his unique images. In 1993, he was honored as the Photographer of the Year in the Unites States. Rai has been an associate of Magnum for over 20 years, an international agency that has been at the forefront of documentary and reportage photography for over fifty years. Raghu Rai realized he was witnessing a disaster, when he arrived in Bhopal hours after the gas leak to find chaos as the dead were being buried and cremated and the hospitals overflowing with thousands of patients.(2) Corporate Crimes: The Need for an International Instrument on Corporate Accountability -- Is a compilation of cases documenting the criminal behavior of big corporations like Dow, Bayer, ICI, Shell, Solvay, Monsanto, Aventis, Exxon, Total Fina, and others, in the following countries: Brazil, India, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, UK, US, Japan, France, South- Africa, Russia, Spain, Philippines, Israel, and others. In the report, Greenpeace is asking governments to take up the Bhopal Principles on Corporate Accountability and Liability, a comprehensive set of principles to ensure that corporations protect human rights, food sovereignty and promote clean and sustainable development. The Ten Principles on Corporate Accountability include corporate liability for damages arising from their activities, as well as for damage to areas beyond national jurisdictions including the global commons; the protection of human rights; the provision of public participation and the right to know; protection of food sovereignty; the implementation of the Precautionary Principle; adherence to the highest standards for protecting human health and the environment; avoiding excessive corporate influence over governance; and promoting clean and sustainable development. (3) The chemical company Spolana in the Czech republic poses a great environmental risk as result of a huge toxic legacy of mercury and dioxine. The company, including the state and private owners, has avoided addressing the question of liability towards direct and indirect victims, as well as a holistic approach to contamination of the Spolana premises. Their current production of chlorine and PVC has, by the recent floodings, proven to be dangerous, causing three chlorine leaks. (4) Greenpeace is working as part of an international coalition of NGO groups named AaCcTt-Action Against Corporate Crime and Toxic Terror- whose constituents are: the Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association, Bhopal Gas Affected Pensioners Association, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, National Campaign For Justice in Bhopal, The Other Media and CorpWatch.