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The Dow Shareholders Meeting, May 11, 2000

On May 11, 2000, activists from the Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and INFACT participated in the shareholders meeting of Dow as proxy shareholders. On behalf of activists against the Dow–Union Carbide merger, Priya Sundaravalli read out the following speech :

Reaching out in Global Citizenship
On a cold December night, 15 1/2 years ago, a human tragedy of unimaginable proportion struck the people of Bhopal, a city with a population of 1 million, just like that of Detroit. Their lives were to be forever changed; lives that were either snuffed out prematurely and unnecessarily, or lives that have been forever altered by disease and disability.

Who is to blame? Has justice been delivered?
43.6 TONS of pesticides meant to kill harmful insects, slaughtered human beings who were caught in its suffocating hold. One more manmade tragedy in the checkered accident prone history of the industrialized 20th century. After all these years, our jaded and typical response is, "Oh well, another set of unfortunate victims.... time will heal them." No, time can never heal when there is injustice...

Who is to blame? Has justice been delivered?
Conservative estimates stated that over 6000 people died over the first week, while more realistic estimates placed the death toll at 8000. What do these numbers mean to you and me ? Many of us are desensitized by the innumerable tragedies that we keep hearing over and over again, on TV, on the radio, the newspapers and magazines, and now on the internet too.Perhaps nothing can jolt us out of this stupor unless the tragedy is personal. The death toll in Bhopal now stands at over 16000 and people continue to die from exposure related diseases or their complications.

Who is to blame?     Has justice been delivered?
Methyl Isocyanate is poisonous at concentrations as low as twenty parts per million, and it can enter the human body in any possible way: by inhalation, through skin contact, or by ingestion. Medical specialists from over 11 countries who have studied its vicious effects following the tragedy have documented that MIC affects all systems of the human body, namely the respiratory, neurological, genito-urinary, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and immunological systems.

MIC is a COMPLETE and TOTAL poison and it is no wonder that it is being used as a pesticide.

Who is to blame? Has justice been delivered?
As Americans, you know how expensive medical care is. Well, it is is no different in India. If you fall sick and don't have the money, life very quickly becomes unaffordable. Good health is the most valuable asset for an Indian, just as it is for you and me here in America. And most of those affected in the Bhopal Gas tragedy depended on their physical wellbeing to earn a decent livelihood. Unfortunately, the resulting disease and disability destroyed that possibility.

There are now tens of thousands of survivors (of the half a million who were exposed to the deadly Methyl Isocyanate); who now continue to suffer from the long term effects of MIC exposure and poisoning. These include chronic obstructive airway disease, asthma, recurrent chest infection including secondary tuberculosis, fibrosis of the lungs, early cataracts, increased still births in exposed women, loss of memory, decreased control of limb movements and diseases due to immuno-suppression.

Who is to blame? Has justice been delivered?
Union Carbide paid about $430 each to over 90% of survivors. This approximately covered the medical costs for ONLY 5 years following the tragedy. Unfortunately their illnesses did not disappear when the $430 ran out. If we were the victims of methyl isocyanate, would we have allowed Union Carbide to treat us in this manner?

Who is to blame? Has justice been delivered?
Perhaps its time to word this refrain differently:

Who will take responsibility? Who will deliver complete justice?
Dear shareholders of Dow, the power now lies in YOUR hands, in YOUR voices, in the choices YOU make. We are all in this together; there is no vested interest here. We, who are decent and ordinary folks, have to demand that Corporations ALSO maintain supreme standards of decency, and be honest to their core. The bottom line should not be only about money, but about morals and money. Just as you and I have to be conscientious and accountable for our actions or inaction, so too should Corporations.

Yesterday the victims were from Bhopal, and tomorrow it could be any one of us.

Do not let this opportunity for global citizenship pass you by. The whole world is watching you today as you make your decision.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Priya Sundaravalli

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