SPOT THE MAJOR BOO-BOO IN THIS ARTICLE - WHICH
REMAINED UNCORRECTED DESPITE LETTERS FROM BHOPALIS POINTING OUT THE MISTAKE
- CURIOUSLY THIS IS THE SAME "MISTAKE" MADE BY DOW CEO STAVROPOULOUS
AT A SHAREHOLDER ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING WHEN HE ALSO SAID THAT THERE WERE
NO CRIMINAL CHARGES OUTSTANDING AGAINST UNION CARBIDE. COMPANY PR MAN
JOHN MUSSER LATER SAID THAT HIS BOSS "MIS-SPOKE".
Nearly 20 years after
an environmental disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, the
tragedy remains a thorn in the side of Dow Chemical Co.
Dow, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, is expected to come under attack
at its annual meeting of shareholders Thursday from a group of survivors
of the 1984 incident, in which a pesticide plant leaked toxic gases that
killed at least 3,000 people and injured tens of thousands more.
Union Carbide years ago sold its interest in the plant and paid $470 million
to the Indian state of which Bhopal is the capital to settle all claims
of liability. But survivors and their supporters continue to hound Dow
to pay as much as $1 billion more in damages for what they call unmet
medical bills and toxic-cleanup needs. The group is seeking to make Dow
liable for the Bhopal legacy through a suit filed in U.S. District Court
in Manhattan. The suit, originally filed against Union Carbide in 1999,
was dismissed by the court in 2000, reinstated on appeal, and dismissed
again in March. Survivors have filed an appeal.
Bhopal is just one
of a series of problems for Dow that don't seem to go away. Profits, which
fell 28% in the first quarter, are down amid high energy prices and weak
demand for commodity chemicals. Indeed, the company's earnings have failed
to cover its dividend payment costs for the past 10 quarters.
Dow has other environmental headaches, too. Environmentalists say the
company may be responsible for dioxin pollution in groundwater near its
headquarters in Midland, Mich., among other places. Dow says the origin
of the pollution is unclear, but that it is a high priority for the company
to address and resolve.
survivors Rashida Bee (left) and Champa Devi (right) with
Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi (center) participate in a protest last
week in New York City.
A DISTANT TRAGEDY
isocyanate gas leaks from a Union Carbide pesticide
plant in Bhopal, India, killing at least 3,000 people.
1989: Union Carbide pays $470 million to Madhya
Pradesh state government to settle all liability claims.
[Wrong, it was the Union Government]
1994: Union Carbide sells its interest in the plant.
[But retains control of the site until after
1999: Bhopal survivors file lawsuit seeking damages against Union Carbide
in U.S. court. Suit is thrown out but that decision is appealed.
2001: Dow Chemical acquires Union Carbide.
2003: Delegation from Bhopal travels to U.S. to ratchet up public pressure
on Dow. They start a hunger strike on Wall Street last week, and plan
to attend Dow's annual meeting Thursday and to confer with the company's
The Bhopal controversy is beginning to resonate with some investors.
"We believe the continuing protests and media coverage around this
issue pose a risk to Dow's reputation and undermine Dow's stated commitments
to sustainability," said a Dec. 2 letter to company officials signed
by San Francisco-based Trillium Asset Management and eight other self-described
"socially responsible" investment firms. Trillium said it doesn't
own Dow stock but represents clients who do.
The delegation representing Bhopal survivors has journeyed to the U.S.
to ratchet up public pressure on Dow. Two Bhopal survivors, 46-year-old
Rashida Bee and 50-year-old Champa Devi, last week launched a hunger strike
at the giant bull statue near New York's Wall Street to draw attention
to their cause. They and another activist, Satinah Sarangi, plan to speak
out at Dow's annual shareholders meeting Thursday. They have also arranged
a meeting afterward to discuss the situation with Chairman William Stavropolous.
Company officials have said they would consider offering some additional
aid for Bhopal, without admitting liability.
"If Dow were
a truly responsible company, it would have settled the Bhopal issue the
day they acquired Union Carbide," said Ms. Bee, who suffered partial
blindness and lost five family members in the Bhopal disaster.
Union Carbide's environmental legacy has begun to appear on Dow's bottom
line. Last year the company estimated pending and future liability on
asbestos claims against Union Carbide to be $2.2 billion and took a charge
of $800 million, with the balance of the estimated obligations to be covered
by insurance. Union Carbide made asbestos as far back as the 1960s.
In India, a longstanding criminal case remains unresolved against eight
officials of Union Carbide, including Warren Anderson, the company's chairman
during the Bhopal disaster.
The charges, originally
filed as "culpable homicide not amounting to murder,"
were later downgraded to a "rash and negligent act." [NB:
YOU HAVE NOW DISCOVERED THE BIG BOO-BOO. SEE BELOW FOR THE FACTS]
The officials have
denied the charges but have failed to appear in court. It isn't expected
the Indian government will seek their extradition.
John Musser, a Dow spokesman, said the criminal case is against Union
Carbide and hasn't affected Dow's business dealings in India. He said
any argument that Dow has "unresolved liabilities [related to Bhopal]
is only accurate to the extent it relates to criminal charges against
Warren Anderson and Union Carbide." Any other claims have been resolved
for more than a decade, he added.
Write to Jim Carlton at email@example.com
and Thaddeus Herrick at firstname.lastname@example.org
COMMENT ON THAT BOO-BOO:
The statement that
the criminal charges of "culpable homicide not amounting to murder"
against Warren Anderson and eight officials were later downgraded to "rash
and negligent act" is wrong.
The facts are are
The Indian government
instructed the Criminal Bureau of Investigation to apply to have the charge
of "culpable homicide" lowered to "a rash and negligent
act". This would have reduced the deaths of more than 20,000 people
to the status of a car accident. The survivors, naturally, protested.
Last summer's massive
worldwide hunger strike was focused squarely on this issue. On August
28th 2002, as all the world's press reported, the Judge in the Bhopal
Magistrate's Court threw out the CBI application, admonished them for
wasting the court's time and instructed the Indian government immediately
to pursue the extradition of Warren Anderson.
out the massive international press coverage reporting these facts! Look
for stories breaking August 28th.
out the Judge's statement dismissing the application to reduce charges
The chargeof "culpable homicide" still stands against Anderson
and his merry men. A powerful committee of Indian MPs has demanded to
know why the Indian government's delay in actioning Anderson's extradition.
Bhopal.Net front page story last month, now archived here.