New questions of Dow corporate misconduct; pressure on Dow for Bhopal clean up
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 *Documents and photos available upon request
CONTACTS: Tony Millard, ICJB Spokesperson, (708)-606-8142, aj.millard’at’gmail.com
Shana Ortman, ICJB US Coordinator, (415)-746-0306, shana’at’panna.org
New York — Internal documents penned by India’s Ministry of Law declare that any legal liability stemming from the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster and civil suits regarding ongoing contamination rests with the Dow Chemical Company, following its 2001 purchase of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC).
The news emerges just ahead of Dow’s Annual General Meeting, to be held in Midland, Mich. this Thursday, May 15, when Dow will face serious shareholder concerns about the company’s liabilities in Bhopal. This revelation also comes on the heels of a major Dow scandal at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which a highly respected EPA regional director was forced to resign over enforcement actions on dioxin contamination linked to Dow.
According to these documents, India’s Law Ministry “has observed that irrespective of the manner in which UCC has merged or has been acquired by Dow Chemicals, if there is any legal liability, it would have to be borne by Dow.”
The damning information originates from a memo dated February 7, 2008, recently obtained through a series of Right to Information (RTI) requests filed in Delhi by survivors of the Bhopal disaster and
their supporters. The survivors are closing in on 50 days of protests in the nation’s capital, pressing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration for fresh, genuine plans to end the suffering in Bhopal. This includes legal action to force Dow to remediate the site of the Bhopal disaster and surrounding areas.
“Dow has been attempting to avoid their liabilities in Bhopal for years. Now, they can no longer obscure their legal responsibilities,” said Shana Ortman, U.S. Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), who plans to attend Dow’s AGM to ask the Board how they intend to deal with these liabilities. “Dow plans to invest over a billion dollars in India. Their plans are now at great risk.”
The memo also reveals that Dow officials continue to inquire about the impact of their liabilities in Bhopal. Dow “was seeking assurances” about the ease with which corporate leadership can travel in India, “while simultaneously attending to the pending civil cases against them.” This is a clear sign that Dow recognizes the consequences of their legal culpability for Bhopal.
“The collusion of members of the Indian government with Dow/Carbide continues to bring irreparable devastation to many lives,” said Tony Millard of ICJB. “We are pleased to learn that the Law Ministry sees Dow as the liable party in pending cases regarding Bhopal. Prime Minister Singh and his government must prioritize the suffering of India’s people ahead of foreign investment.”
This is not the only recent government scandal plaguing Dow. On May 1, Mary Gade, head of the EPA’s Midwest office, based in Chicago, was forced out after reportedly confronting Dow about their responsibility for grave levels of dioxin contamination in Michigan, yet another tragedy linked to Dow.
Fifty Bhopal survivors arrived in Delhi in late March to begin a sit-in and a series of protests, after finishing a grueling march of over 500 miles from Bhopal. In addition to their demand for legal action against Dow, survivors are pressuring Prime Minister Singh to establish an empowered Special Commission on Bhopal, vested with powers to move swiftly and efficiently toward ensuring the provision of proper medical care, safe drinking water and more, for affected Bhopalis.
Nearly half a million people were exposed to poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC) during a runaway chemical reaction at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal on December 3rd, 1984. Since then, more than 22,000 people have died and 150,000 survivors continue to be chronically ill. Dow has repeatedly failed to address its legal responsibility for the atrocities of the world’s worst industrial disaster.