Investors urge Dow Chemicals to take responsibility for ongoing Bhopal disaster

Press release - 5 December, 2002

Greenpeace activists and Bhopal residents today placed a monument at the Dow headoffice in Terneuzen, Netherlands.

A group of socially responsible investment firms, with assets valued at $13 billion, are urging U.S. Dow Chemical Company to address 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 to date. 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, calling on 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 gathered in New York for the two-day 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 where, 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 in 1984. In January this year, Dow settled asbestos lawsuits filed against Union Carbide in the United States - 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, which include 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 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 U.S.. 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 tons of toxic waste that were 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 that has become 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 Bhopal.

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 and to by acting as the good corporate citizen it claims to be and cleaning up Bhopal," said Delcio Rodrigues, Greenpeace International campaigner in Bhopal.

Notes: Copies of the letter are available on request and can be seen