Five ways Dow Discriminates & Dehumanizes

On the 37th Anniversary of the World’s Worst Industrial disaster in Bhopal, India, a Call to Action to End Discrimination by Dow Inc

In 1984 without warning a poorly designed and recklessly maintained Union Carbide pesticides factory gushed 27 tons of poison gas into the Indian city of Bhopal. In a few hours thousands were dead, and tens of thousands maimed.

Those who survived that night of horror escaped with their lives but not their health. Over the first ten years Bhopal suffered on average three gas-related deaths every day. Even today, almost four decades on, survivors suffer breathlessness, body pains, weeping sores, failing kidneys, liver disease, ruined eyes, menstrual chaos and cancers. Impacts on the next generations are profound, and children are born in high numbers with physical and mental impairments.

Carbide abandoned its factory without cleaning up thousands of tons of toxic wastes routinely dumped in and around the grounds. Drinking wells of communities housing over 100,000 people are contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals and dangerously poisonous chemicals. Cancer-causing and mutagenic chemicals have been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.

93% of survivors were paid $500 in compensation via a settlement struck between India and Carbide that consulted not one victim. Criminal prosecution for around 25,000 has not concluded, due to the refusal of the key accused to show up in court. Efforts to enforce clean up have run aground.

Dow Inc’s (formerly Dow Chemical) treatment of the survivors of its wholly-owned subsidiary (since 2001) Union Carbide’s gas disaster is a classic form of discrimination, one which systematically denies people their full human rights because of their colour, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

Dow’s dehumanizing attitude to difference doesn’t only begin outside its own borders. Dow is the worst industrial polluter contributing to cancer in poor communities and communities of color in the United States. But Dow does, at least, submit to legal enforcement actions in the US.

When it comes to the legal and human rights of Bhopal survivors in India, Dow systematically denies their rights, on an equal basis with others, revealing a deep institutional racial prejudice and a contempt for equality, and the rule of law.

Five ways Dow Discriminates & Dehumanizes

1. No equality before the law

In the United States Dow submits unquestioningly to government agencies and courts seeking to enforce laws and standards. For instance, in 2005 a Dow joint-venture pled guilty and paid an $84 million criminal fine for participating in an international conspiracy to fix the prices of synthetic rubber in violation of the Sherman Act.

For India, where Dow subsidiary is accused of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” for the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people, and where Dow has ignored six separate summonses to appear in the court’s proceedings, Dow says, “The Indian criminal court has no jurisdiction over TDCC, and therefore cannot compel TDCC to take any action.

2. Polluter only Pays in the US

After merging with Dupont, Dow was responsible for 171 different Superfund sites in the US, sites at which ‘Polluter Pays’ principles are enforced against originators of environmental contamination. The largest of these concerns clean up of the Tittabawassee river & Saginaw river around Midland, Michigan, where Dow is headquartered, for which Dow recently paid $77 million “to compensate the public for injuries to natural resources”.

In Bhopal, where Union Carbide imported polluting manufacturing technology, designed polluting waste disposal methods, monitored resulting leaks and conducted secret tests that showed lethal poisons were in soil and water next to community housing, yet warned no one, Dow says “Responsibility for the clean-up of the Bhopal site lies with the Madhya Pradesh State government.”

3. For Indians, no right to water

Dow donated water filtrations systems and over $100,000 in aid to Flint, Michigan, in response to its 2014 water crisis in which 6 – 12,000 children were exposed to heavy metals in their drinking water. “These partnerships and initiatives demonstrate what is core to Dow’s culture — helping others and giving back to our neighbors in times of need”.

Dow says the contaminated water in Bhopal, where mercury, cancer-causing and mutagenic chemicals are found in the breast milk of nursing mothers and more than 50,000 children are at risk, is not its responsibility. Though in possession of Carbide’s own secret tests showing lethal poisons in soil and water next to family housing, Dow cites scientifically discredited reports to pretend there is no problem: ‘India’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute concluded that the “groundwater in general is not contaminated due to seepage of contaminants from the UCIL” plant site.

4. No right to restitution in Bhopal

Within a year taking over Union Carbide, Dow’s share price fell $7 billion at news it had settled an historic Union Carbide asbestos case. Dow took over liability for over 75,000 asbestos-related Carbide law suits in the US, by 2009 expecting liability costs of $839 million, having already spent $687 million in litigation costs and paying out $1,480 million to an unspecified number of claimants.

In replies to the Supreme Court in response to India’s Bhopal curative petition seeking $1,200 billion additional compensation for over half a million Bhopal survivors, Dow says “the Indian court has no jurisdiction over it and that jurisdiction based on its relationship to UCC is improper because the two are separate corporations.” Dow anyway doesn’t believe that Bhopal survivors are deserving of adequate compensation. “Five hundred dollars is real good for an Indian,” one of Dow’s spokespeople said. “Plus, that’s American dollars.

5. The right to health and life is not universal

Dow Chemical invented and patented Chlorpyrifos, brand name Dursban, in 1966. The U.S. EPA announced the banning of most uses of Dursban in June 2000 due to concerns it was harmful to the public health, particularly children, causing possible neurological damage, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention deficit disorders and birth defects. Chlorpyrifos finally received a full ban in August 2021. As early as 1995, Dow paid at least $10 million to settle the case of Joshua Herb, a paralyzed Charleston boy exposed in utero to Dursban, but Dow still continued manufacturing it.

Dow found the perfect market for Dursban in India, but needed to get past regulators. It achieved this through bribes. In 2007 Dow paid a fine of $325,000 under foreign corruption laws in the US, but has paid no fines in India, where bribery is also a criminal offence. Pesticide products were split from Dow into Corteva Agrisciences following the Dow-DuPont merger. Corteva continues to sell Dursban in India today, with not a single word about the health dangers, or its regulatory ban in the US.

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