Dow-Carbide merger assailed - dissidents claim
Carbide holds back on Bhopal liability
The Detroit News, 12.5.2000
MIDLAND - Dow Chemical Co. sidestepped one issue only to find itself ensnared in another at its annual meeting Thursday. The chemical maker persuaded a small group of shareholders who oppose biotech crops to drop a resolution rejecting the company's work with such technology.
But Dow wasn't as successful trying to appease a separate faction unhappy about its pending merger with Union Carbide. The loose-knit group consists of shareholders who weren't aware of what they claim is Union Carbide's continuing liability in the Bhopal, India, poisoning disaster, and college students who charge that Union Carbide hasn't done enough for the Bhopal victims.
"They treated the victims the same way as they treat shareholders - by holding back info," said Priya Sudarsan, a University of Michigan doctoral student who belongs to the student group, Association for India Development.
In 1984, 3,000 people were killed when poisonous gas leaked from Union Carbide's plant in Bhopal. The company reached a
$470 million settlement in India's Supreme Court but criminal charges are pending. No resolutions concerning Bhopal or Union Carbide were introduced at the meeting, but several protesters, speaking through shareholder's proxies, rose to condemn the company. Dow officials said 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. He said it smacked of double jeopardy for the legal system to try to punish the company again.
Shareholders filed a federal lawsuit in New York last week over the liability issue. The suit said Union Carbide's assets in India have been attached as the government tries to induce a former company executive to appear to face criminal charges.
Prior to the annual meeting at the Midland Center for the Arts, 16 demonstrators held signs and chanted "No justice, no
merger'' as shareholders filed into the facility.
By Francis X. Donnelly