Investors take Dow at their word and demand Bhopal report

Its that man Liveris’k’ again, already. You see, there’s always a danger that someone is going to take your words to mean what they say. Then they may just ask you to back them up.

Today, Boston Common Asset Management(BCAM)did just that when they filed a shareholder resolution with Dow requesting that they “institute new initiatives to address the specific health, environmental and social concerns of the (Bhopal) survivors”. Now, Dow are old hands at ignoring this kind of request, no matter who it comes from. In fact, if they weren’t developing a reputation for looking the other way while whistling tunelessly they might have been able to get away with it again. BCAM, however, are clearly no mugs: Dow, like an errant schoolboy, has been told to account for itself. “Shareholders request the management of Dow Chemical to prepare a report to shareholders by October 2004, at reasonable cost and excluding confidential information, quantifying and analyzing the impacts that the Bhopal matter may reasonably pose on the company, its reputation, its finances and its expansion in Asia and elsewhere”. Ouch.

Investors Fault Dow Chemical for ‘Hiroshima of Chemical Industry’

Jeffrey Allen

OneWorld US
26 November 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 26 (OneWorld) — Nearly 20 years after what is considered by many to have been the worst industrial disaster in history, investors are calling on the U.S. corporation they hold responsible to do more to address the considerable remaining environmental, social, and health concerns of survivors.

A shareholder resolution was filed Tuesday with the Dow Chemical Company on behalf of the Brethren Benefit Trust (the financial arm of the Church of the Brethren), which owns $330,000 worth of stock in the company, asking Dow to describe what it has done to address the lingering concerns of the estimated 120,000 to 150,000 people left chronically ill by a gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in India in 1984.

Dow, which now owns Union Carbide, has been admonished by activists for doing little to clean up the contaminated site, failing to release information about the gas that doctors need to better treat patients, and inadequately compensating survivors and their families.

“When Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide two years ago, it inherited not only its assets but the liability and karma attached to Carbide’s lack of accountability for the Bhopal chemical disaster,” said Gary Cohen of the Environmental Health Fund, in a statement about the shareholder resolution released by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

About 8,000 people are believe to have died–mainly from cardiac and respiratory arrest–in the first three days after 40 tons of toxic gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal early in the morning of December 3, 1984.

“With safety systems either malfunctioning or turned off, an area of 40 square kilometers–with a resident population of over half a million–was soon covered with a dense cloud of gas,” explains Greenpeace, which advocates on behalf of the victims and survivors of the incident. “People woke in their homes to fits of coughing, their lungs filling with fluid.”

20,000 are believed to have died from diseases related to the gas leak, and of as many as 150,000 who remain chronically ill, 50,000 are too sick to earn a living, says the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. Additionally, toxins from the contaminated site continue to leak into the groundwater used by local residents, say activists.

A $470 million compensation package provided by Union Carbide amounts to approximately nine cents per day per person over the nineteen years since the incident occurred, “a pathetically inadequate amount, given the economic and health needs of the survivors,” according to the Campaign’s Tim Edwards.

The package does not include money to clean up the contaminated site nor does it include compensation for the tens of thousands of “second generation victims” who were born after the disaster but suffer from severe birth defects and other developmental and psychological problems caused by exposure to the gas.

Brethren Benefit Trust also filed a shareholder resolution in April with Proctor & Gamble, the largest retailer of coffee in the United States, pressing the company to address the crisis among coffee farmers in poor countries caused by a steep decline in coffee prices. By September, the company had agreed to introduce a new line of “Fair Trade Certified” coffee.

“We’re both concerned about the social and environmental impact as well as the financial return of our investments,” said Lauren Compere of Boston Common Asset Management, which filed Tuesday’s resolution with Dow on behalf of Brethren Benefit Trust. “We take a long-term view in terms of our investments and we’re very concerned that Dow has not taken what we consider a leadership role in proactively addressing the Bhopal issue, both on environmental remediation and also the survivors’ needs.”

In addition to the calls of its investors, survivors, and victims’ rights groups, Dow has been under pressure recently to do more to address the Bhopal situation from members of the British and European Parliaments, the U.S. chemical workers’ union PACE, students and professors’ campaigns, and members of the U.S. Congress, including Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

See also the Hindustan Times coverage here.

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