Survivors of worst chemical disaster confront industry executives

Fasting Bhopal Survivors Bring Their Demands for Justice to Dow Chemical Annual Shareholder Meeting and Dow CEO

Press release - 8 May, 2003
Eight days into an indefinite hunger strike, two women survivors of the world's worst chemical disaster in Bhopal, India brought the disaster home to top executives of Dow Chemical, Union Carbide's new owners. The survivors addressed shareholders and leadership at Dow's Annual General Meeting (AGM) at its headquarters in the U.S. today, demanding that the company takes responsibility for the health consequences and environmental impacts of its operations in Bhopal and other communities around the world that have been poisoned by Dow and its subsidiaries.

Members of the International Campaign for Justice In Bhopal joined survivors of the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India in protesting at the Dow Chemical annual shareholders meeting.

With graphic eleven-foot banners of gas-affected Bhopal residents as a backdrop, activists held up photographs of people in Bhopal affected by Dow's pollution at a rally outside the shareholder meeting in Midland, Michigan. More than thirty people from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, a global coalition campaigning to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal's toxic legacy, attended the rally and shareholder meeting.

A delegation from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is scheduled to meet Dow Chairman and CEO William Stavropoulos after the AGM. The delegation will reiterate its demands to Dow and will also extend an offer to Mr. Stavropoulos to personally come and visit the Bhopal community and the abandoned disaster site.

Mrs. Rasheeda Bee and Mrs. Champa Devi, survivors and leaders of the trade union Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association, and long-time Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi, launched their fast on May 1, 2003, at a demonstration in New York's financial district. More than 130 people around the world are already fasting in solidarity with the trio, and hundreds more have said they will join them today to urge Dow to take responsibility for the ongoing disaster in Bhopal.

"We're fasting to insist on the truth and to let the world know that the world's largest chemical corporation is now responsible for the liabilities in the world's worst industrial disaster," said 51-year old Devi, referring to the February 2001 Dow-Carbide merger, and Dow's inheritance of Carbide's Bhopal liabilities. Devi's husband and five children were exposed to Carbide's gases during the disaster in 1984, with her husband succumbing to cancer in 1997. Devi's granddaughter was born with deformities, a condition common to children born to gas-affected parents.

"Dow can deny its liabilities all it wants. But its liabilities and our struggle will only grow as time passes. As long as Carbide's toxic legacy continues to haunt Bhopal, Carbide's liabilities will haunt Dow and its shareholders," said Sarangi. On April 25, victims and survivors organizations reopened a recently dismissed class action suit seeking clean up and compensation for contamination-related damages, by filing an appeal in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Union Carbide currently faces criminal charges, including manslaughter, in a Bhopal court for its role in the gas disaster.

Last year, socially responsible investment firms, with over $13 billion in assets, sent a letter to Dow highlighting its liabilities in Bhopal and expressing the need for urgent action. Since the Union Carbide merger, Dow has suffered serious financial losses, prompting industry observers at Forbes and Business Week to highlight the Carbide purchase as a likely bad investment and future liability for the company.

"Dow's irresponsible behaviour in Bhopal is in line with its corporate ethos. What can you expect of a company that has even poisoned its own nest?" said Terry Miller of Bay City-based Lone Tree Council. Miller, who is a resident of Bay County, says Dow facilities in Midland have contaminated large areas in the vicinity, including the Tittabawasee river flood plain. Trillium Asset Management has filed a resolution asking the company to report to shareholders on dioxin contamination and persistent toxic compounds. The resolution seeks information on all contaminated areas, potential liabilities, and future plans related to the company's operations and products.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal calls upon Dow to:

- face the criminal charges that were originally brought against Union Carbide in India;

- release toxicological information regarding the poison gases that were leaked from the Union Carbide plant in 1984 so that people who are still suffering effects of gas exposure can be properly treated;

- arrange for long-term medical rehabilitation and monitoring;

- provide economic rehabilitation and social support for survivors' children;

- clean up the toxic wastes and contaminated groundwater in and around Union Carbide's deserted factory site.

Notes: The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is comprised of: Association for India's Development, Austin, Ann Arbor & Bay Area, USA, Bhopal Action Resource Center, USA, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmachari Sangh, India, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, India, Bhopal Information Network, Japan, Calhoun County Resource Watch, Seadrift, USA, Center for Health & Environment, USA, Corpwatch, India, Essential Action, USA, Ecology Centre of Michigan, USA, Environmental Health Fund, USA, Greenpeace International, National Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, India, Pesticide Action Network North America, UK, The Other Media India, UK Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, Justice for Bhopal, Ann Arbor USA.