India Today WEB EXCLUSIVE

Keep the Union Carbide name alive
An interview by INDIA TODAY Associate Editor N K Singh

"The merger of Dow and UCC imposes the risk of mega-disasters like Bhopal."

The impending merger of Dow Chemical Company (1999 annual turnover US$ 19 billion) with Union Carbide Corporation (1999 annual turnover US$ 4.1 billion) ran into rough weather last week. Survivors of the Bhopal disaster and green activists teamed up with a section of Dow shareholders to file a federal lawsuit in New York opposing the merger.

The Dow shareholders accused their company of withholding financially damaging information. The loose-knit group of shareholders also said at Dow's annual meeting on May 11 that they weren't aware of what they claimed was Union Carbide's continuing liability in the Bhopal disaster. Several protesters, speaking through shareholder's proxies, rose to condemn the company.

Dow officials say they had nothing to do with the Bhopal disaster and that the matter was seemingly concluded with the Supreme Court's ruling in 1989. "It's not in my power to take responsibility for an event 15 years ago with a product we never developed at a location where we never operated," Dow Chairman Frank Popoff said. As for the question of continuing liability, he said Union Carbide has already settled with victims.

The man who is trying to stop "the second largest chemical behemoth in the world" from coming into existence sits in distant Bhopal. Satinath Sarangi, 45, of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, an NGO working among survivors of the gas disaster, has involved himself with the Bhopal case since the chemical accident 15 years ago. He spoke to India Today Associate Editor N K Singh on why the activists are opposing the Dow-Carbide merger.

Q. Why are you against the Dow-Carbide merger?
A. Because this merger will help Union Carbide vanish as an entity. We cannot let Union Carbide's name disappear before justice is done in Bhopal. The massacre in Bhopal is the big reason why the name Union Carbide continues to be a burden on the corporation and is still a source of negative Public Relations. Aware of this, Union Carbide initiated its vanishing act way back in 1992. First to go was Union Carbide Eastern Hong Kong, one of the accused in the Bhopal case. This wholly owned subsidiary that served as the conduit of UCC's control over the Bhopal factory was dissolved and de-registered in Maryland. The assets and the Board of Directors were reshuffled and given a new name in 1992.

The CBI has said in the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Bhopal, that they have no means to proceed against a company that has dissolved itself. The Indian subsidiary was renamed Eveready Industries India Limited after Union Carbide Corporation's shares were sold off to the Khaitan Group in 1994. UCC's former CEO, Kennedy had proclaimed "Bhopal is history" in one of their annual meetings. Since public memory did not/will not allow that to be a reality, it seems the company is now trying to commit itself to history. Dow Chemical Corporation is aware of the burden of shame.Dow executives have already begun saying, "we have not done it - that was a different company."

Q. But the way the activists are campaigning against the merger, it would seem that the target is Dow as much as UCC. Why?
A. Union Carbide and Dow are founders of the "military industrial complex", a coalition of business, military and politicians, that increasingly threatens global security. Union Carbide and Dow produced picric acid and mustard gas used in World War I. In World War II, Dow made magnesium for bombs and Union Carbide produced nuclear materials as well as chemical weapons. Dow played a principal role in the US military aggression on Vietnam in the late sixties. The company was the top producer of Agent Orange a toxic defoliant sprayed over 4.5 million acres of Vietnam to make it harder for the Vietcong guerrillas to hide. The potential synergy of two corporations dealing with the most toxic chemicals in the world imposes the risk of mega-disasters like Bhopal.

Both Carbide and Dow share a history of shocking disregard of environmental and occupational health as well as work safety and human rights. The merged entity threatens to be the second largest chemical behemoth in the world. Such concentration of toxic capital is a grave threat to life and health of people all over the world. As the largest producer of dioxin - the most toxic chemical known to man - Dow Chemical Corporation is responsible for causing a variety of cancers, endometriosis, declining fertility, immune system suppression and birth defects all over the world. Union Carbide continues to be one of the major suppliers of toxic compounds.

Q. But you seem to be targeting Dow's shareholders for your anti-merger campaign.
A. We are informing them that the merger is based on a lie that Union Carbide has no criminal liabilities. Union Carbide is liable for killing of thousands of people, for withholding of vital medical information and impeding medical treatment of the survivors, for devastation of family economies and for the toxic contamination of the soil and ground water in the communities next to the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. These liabilities are still outstanding because Union Carbide Corporation, USA, is absconding criminal prosecution in India.

Q. How strong is the opposition to the merger?
A. The opposition to the merger is growing. Three organizations with wide national and international networks have joined with our International Alliance for Justice in Bhopal, an international network of enironmental, health, human rights and other activist
groups. These three are ---- Essential Action set up by Ralph Nader, famous US based activist carrying out international labour, environmental, human rights and other campaigns; Infact, a US national grassroots watchdog organization campaigning for corporate accountability; and Association for India's Development, a US based group of mostly young people of Indian origin supporting campaigns and development work in India. In addition, Dow shareholders are suing the corporation and its 17 senior officials alleging potential financial harm caused by Dow's suppression of information regarding Union Carbide's pending liabilities.

Q. What is the form of your opposition?
A. We have filed complaints before the Securities Exchange Commission and the Attorney General's office in New York. Led by Irish M P, Patricia Mckenna, the members of the green caucus have moved a resolution against the merger in the European parliament. We organised a demonstration at the annual shareholders meeting on 11th May at Midland, Michigan. Three of the
protesters gave speeches at the annual shareholders meeting.

Q. What about the law suit against Dow?
A. Our legal counsels are also representing Dow shareholders in a class action suit filed in the District Court for the Southern District Of New York on behalf of all persons who held the common stock of Dow Chemical since August 13, 1999, when the Dow-Union Carbide merger was announced. The suit has been filed against Dow Chemical Corporation and its 17 officials.
The complaint says that Dow failed to disclose that Union Carbide is criminally charged in India for the Bhopal disaster with culpable homicide and other charges, which potentially exposes it to billions of dollars of liability. We have pointed out that Union Carbide failed to appear in Indian criminal courts, was proclaimed an absconder and its assets in India were attached. We have emphasised that Dow 's Indian holdings will likewise be in danger of attachment by Indian courts and Dow 's plans to expand operations in India will, therefore, be jeopardized. The complaint also says that Union Carbide remains liable for damages from environmental contamination from its former Bhopal pesticide plant. The complaint further alleges that Dow's failure to address these matters has caused Dow to underestimate the liabilities it stands to assume pursuant to the merger, and that Dow made an excessive offer for Union Carbide.

Q. You have also filed a suit against the UCC in US. What is that all about?
A. Seven individual victims and five organizations of gas victims have filed a class action suit against UCC and Warren Anderson on November 15, 1999. The suit mainly alleges that Union Carbide demonstrated reckless or depraved indifference to human safety and life in the design, operation and maintenance of its MIC facilities in Bhopal as well as its safety mechanisms. It pursued a systematic policy of racial discrimination in the design, construction and operation of the Bhopal
factory. Union Carbide demonstrated reckless or depraved indifference to human life in the manufacturing, storage, treatment and disposal practices at the UCIL plant, resulting in severe contamination of the soil and water in and around the UCIL plant. Union Carbide and Anderson were and are fugitives from the lawful jurisdiction of the Bhopal District Court where criminal charges remain pending against them. The suit is based on the legal provisions under US law of Alien Torts Claims Act that provides for civil remedies for 'crimes against humanity'. It seeks the federal court's decree directing UCC and Anderson to pay exemplary punitive damages.