An Open Letter to
All Employees, on the Tragedy in Bhopal, India 18 Years Ago
Thursday, November 28, 2002
December 3rd marks the 18th anniversary of the terrible tragedy that
occurred in Bhopal, India. It was a tragedy of unprecedented proportions,
and no one in industry - especially the chemical industry - should ever
forget. Indeed, as I have said before, I can still recall the exact moment
I heard the news, and the profound sadness I felt. On December 3, I plan
to spend a few quiet moments reflecting on the lessons of Bhopal. As I
do so, I will also personally recommit to achieving excellence in Dow's
environment, health and safety performance, and continuing our drive toward
Sustainable Development. I encourage every Dow employee to do the same.
In case you
are unfamiliar with what took place in Bhopal 18 years ago,
here's a very brief summary:
Shortly after midnight on December 3, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas (MIC)
leaked from a storage tank sited at a pesticide manufacturing facility
in Bhopal. As it leaked from the tank, the gas drifted across the neighbouring
communities with devastating consequences. According to the Indian government,
some 3,800 people died and thousands more were injured as a direct result
of exposure to the lethal fumes.
Without a doubt, the tragedy changed our industry forever as companies
across the globe collectively took on the moral responsibility to prevent
anything like it from ever happening again. Indeed, the horrific event
in Bhopal was the driving force for the design and implementation of Responsible
At the time of the disaster, the Bhopal plant was operated by Union
Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a 51 percent affiliate of Union Carbide
(Indian government financial institutions owned 26 percent of the shares
and some 24,000 private Indian citizens owned the balance.)
As you know, Dow acquired Union Carbide's stock on February 6, 2001. And
that is why, with the anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy approaching, it
is very likely that Dow will be the focus of protests and demonstrations.
In particular, we expect the environmental group Greenpeace to intensify
their public campaign against us, strengthening their demand that Dow
take responsibility for the tragedy. To provide some balance to the claims
you'll likely hear from Greenpeace over the coming weeks, I wanted to
reiterate Dow's perspective on this issue.
In the eyes of the highest courts of India, the Bhopal case is closed.
1989 a settlement agreement was reached between Union Carbide, Union Carbide
India Limited and the Indian government through which Union Carbide paid
$470 million in compensation, covering all claims relating to the incident.
In response to public concerns, the Indian Supreme Court reviewed this
settlement agreement and, in 1991, determined it should stand - concluding
that it was 'just, equitable and reasonable'.
At that point the legal case was closed. So when Dow completed its
acquisition of Union Carbide in February 2001, the subsidiary had no
responsibility whatsoever for the tragedy that had occurred 16 years
The black-and-white legal case is one thing. But, there is more for us
to consider. As a company committed to Sustainable Development, and therefore,
the very notion of good corporate citizenship, we also have an entirely
separate humanitarian question with which we have to wrestle. Since acquiring
Union Carbide, we have been engaged in thoughtful discussions to answer
the question - Can, and should Dow, in its role as a global corporate
citizen, help to address any of the present day needs which are apparent
in Bhopal? That is why, despite the fact that we clearly have no legal
obligations in relation to the tragedy, we have, for some time, been exploring
various philanthropic initiatives which might address some of those needs
- just as we do in other parts of the world where we have business interests.
As a result, for the past two years we have held a number of discussions
with the International Campaign For Justice in Bhopal in India, trying
to better understand their concerns and to solicit help in identifying
appropriate humanitarian aid projects. This work continues - and we remain
hopeful that we can find an appropriate initiative in the not too distant
But what we cannot and will not do - no matter where Greenpeace takes
their protest and how much they seek to undermine Dow's reputation with
the general public - is accept responsibility for the Bhopal accident.
It is therefore extremely likely we will face a number of protests at
sites around the world during the coming weeks, and into the future. I
regret for this distraction - I realize it can be both disruptive and
distressing - but I hope you can understand why we will not yield to this
sort of pressure.
I also hope you will not let this deter your pride in our company and
that it stands for. The products we produce benefit people around the
world, improving their lives each and every day. Our commitment is clear.
From our far-reaching and voluntary Environment, Health and Safety Goals
for 2005 to our 12-point Implementation Plan for Sustainable Development,
we at Dow will continue to strive to achieve our vision of zero harm to
the environment, to our people or to anyone we touch in the value chain.
So, on December 3rd, take a moment, to reflect on the tragedy of Bhopal,
and to recommit to doing your part to moving our company ever closer to
that vision of zero.
Thank you for your continued support.
Michael D. Parker
President and CEO
The Dow Chemical Company
note: It is slightly horrifying that Mr Parker is not telling the truth,
even to his own employees whose jobs may be on the line should the company
lose the legal cases currently underway against it. We will shortly be
publishing a decoded version of this memorandum, correcting errors and
omissions and citing verifiable sources: look for it to appear soon on