Do you care about Justice?
Do you believe in Corporate
Do you support Environmental
Are you concerned about Globalization?
Are you committed to Human
Are you concerned about the Environment?
Do you care about your Safety
Do you believe in the Rule
Do you support Labor Rights?
Are you committed to Occupational
Do you believe in the Right
Are you concerned about Poverty
Do you care about Women
Do you value Human Life?
For the past two decades, some of the poorest people on earth,
sick, living on the edge of starvation, illiterate, without funds,
powerful friends or political influence, have found themselves fighting
one of the world's biggest and richest corporations, backed by the
government, military, and, it often seems, even the judiciary of
the world's most powerful nation.
The corporation and its allies have it all - wealth, power, political
influence, lawyers, PR companies, the ear of presidents and prime
ministers, the power to bend policy to their will, and manipulate
the courts and laws of two countries to avoid justice in either.
The 'nothing people' have literally nothing. If thirty-five thousand
of them clubbed together they could not afford one American attorney.
Their efforts to obtain justice have been thwarted in every way
possible by the corporation that killed their families and ruined
their lives. Naively trusting that the Indian government would come
to their rescue, they were instead abandoned, sold down the river
by politicians and judges, obstructed and swindled by corrupt bureaucrats,
cheated by unscrupulous quacks and not infrequently beaten
by their own police for daring to complain.
The campaign itself has been conducted on the most unequal terms.
On one side, multi-million dollar budgets and the best professional
brains money can buy - armies of corporate lawyers, political lobbyists,
spindoctors and media manipulators (including Burson Marstellar,
the world's biggest PR company) - on the other a handful of unpaid
volunteers often without money for stamps, photocopying, telephone
bills, or travel.
It's David against an army of Goliaths.
Yet the survivors of Bhopal not only refuse to give up, they have
led an unbending fight for justice. Not only is this fight being
won, it has the potential to realize a safer and healthier world
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Bhopal is the corporate crime par excellance –
quite literally. Long before the Enron or Worldcom scandals, the
CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson – and the Union Carbide
Corporation itself – were charged with culpable
homicide in India after Bhopal. Both the corporation and its
former CEO are considered “fugitives from justice” by
the Indian Government, and Warren Anderson lived as a fugitive,
in hiding, for more than a decade. (1) They
remain fugitives today.
Bhopal began as a classic instance of corporate double-standards:
Union Carbide was obliged to install state-of-the-art technology
in Bhopal, but instead used inferior
and unproven equipment and employed lax operating procedures
and maintenance and safety standards to those used in its US 'sister-plant'.
The motive was not simply profit, but also control: the company
saved $8 million, and through this deliberate under-investment managed
to retain a majority share of its Indian subsidiary. (2)
On “THAT NIGHT,” none of the plant’s safety systems
- six in all - were operational, and the
plant siren had been turned off.
Following the massacre, Bhopal became a test case for corporate
accountability. While the world anticipated an exemplary punishment
for Carbide - such as ownership of the $10 billion corporation's
assets being transferred to the survivors - US courts allowed Carbide
to take the case to India, far away from its asset base.
Confused by Carbide's
Learn the TRUTH behind Carbide's lies. Visit
There, the company used a strategy of delay, denial and disinformation.
It contested the legitimacy of courts it had asked to be tried before.
It denied it was a multinational. It claimed the gas was not ultra-hazardous.
It blamed an unnamed saboteur. It appealed court orders for humanitarian
relief, while professing its concern for the victims.
The strategy worked. Once Union Carbide and the government of India
had hatched an out-of-court settlement, hazardous enterprises everywhere
had the go-ahead to carry on business as usual, safe in the knowledge
that the price for industrial massacre had been set at just 48 cents
Today, they’re not so sure. Setting a legal precedent, in
March 2004 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals – second only
to the US Supreme Court – ruled that Union Carbide can
be held accountable in US courts for environmental cleanup and
medical monitoring costs in Bhopal, a world away. Dow has
been summoned to appear in Bhopal to explain why it continues
to harbor its subsidiary, a fugitive, from trial, and its Indian
assets risk seizure. And Dow-Carbide has the dubious honor of becoming
the first corporation ever indicted
for crimes against human rights by Amnesty International. Bhopal
remains a test case for corporate accountability: one it’s
possible for us to win, and which we can’t afford to lose.
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Is “$500 good enough for an Indian?” Dow apparently
thinks so, and its public relations spokeswoman even said so, explaining
why the company refused to consider further compensation for the
victims of Bhopal.
The plant was built in the midst of an impoverished sea of people,
many of them minority (Muslim), and many of them illiterate, lacking
political power. It was these people who suffered the worst of the
gas disaster – the chemical violence which took their health
and their loved ones often took their livelihoods as well, leaving
them too sick or weak to earn a living.
Bhopal is a catalogue of double standards. In Bhopal, the complete
failure of plant safety systems meant thousands were gassed to death.
At Union Carbide’s sister plant in Institute, West Virginia,
safety systems were not only functional, they were computerized.
In Bhopal, Carbide refused to plan with local authorities in case
of disaster, and in the event claimed the ultra-hazardous methyl
isocyanate was no more dangerous than tear gas. At Institute, local
planning and disaster scenarios were in place. In Bhopal, MIC was
stored in quantities that dwarfed any other plant in the world –
more than 60 tons, far exceeding Institute and the EU’s recommended
guidelines. The settlement reached between Union Carbide and the
Indian Government awarded an average of $500 in compensation to
the victims of Bhopal, or 7 cents per day – the cost of a
cup of tea. Alaskan sea otters injured in the Exxon Valdez disaster
were kept alive with airlifted lobster at a cost per animal of $500
per day. Following its purchase of Union Carbide, Dow set
aside $2.2 billion to resolve Carbide’s US asbestos liabilities,
but has not acted to stop the ongoing contamination of tens of thousands
in Bhopal – a grim fact many consider inhumane, unjust, and
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"In its timing and in the composition of the principal
actors, Bhopal is a curtain raiser to the sordid drama of Globalisation.
Bhopal is a window to what lies at the end of Globalisation."
- Satinath Sarangi, Genoa, July 2001.
epitomizes the utter failure of international agencies and legal
systems to meet the challenges of a globalized world, where the
protection of health, human rights and the environment depends upon
the possibility of holding corporations fully accountable for their
The disaster in Bhopal was a product of today’s system of
globalization, and a direct consequence of double standards in safety,
the routine violation of worker's rights, a callous disregard for
the lives of people from poor, marginalized communities and a calculus
of environmental harm, all framed within an inequitable yet complicit
relationship between governments and Big Business.
Dow executives and Board members have continued
to insist that India’s 'polluter pays' laws do not apply,
that they have no
responsibilities in Bhopal, and that they intend to do
nothing there to stem the contamination or protect human health.
Both the accident - a product of Union Carbide's cost
cutting and double-standards
- and the company's behavior since then represent the worst abuses
of globalization and corporate power.
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Bhopal was not only a disaster, but was also, and continues to
be, a fundamental violation of human rights. Amnesty International
– and Dow-Carbide – as the leading example of the corporate
violation of human rights: “The Bhopal case illustrates how
companies evade their human rights responsibilities and underlines
the need to establish a universal human rights framework that can
be applied to companies directly.” In its 2004 report on the
Bhopal disaster, “Clouds of Injustice”, Amnesty writes
that “Thousands of people in Bhopal were denied their right
to life, and tens of thousands of people have had their right to
health undermined. Those struggling for justice and the right to
a remedy in Bhopal have been frustrated in their efforts. Thousands
of poor families have suffered illness and bereavement, further
impairing their ability to realize their right to a decent standard
“These and other fundamental human rights are explicitly guaranteed
in international treaties, which are legally binding on the Indian
state. The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life, and
the Indian Supreme Court has held that this includes the right to
health and to protection from environmental pollution. The Court
has also determined that companies are responsible for environmental
damage and for compensating anyone harmed by their activities.”
"Massive suffering resulted from the UCC leak, yet Dow-Carbide
continues to evade its responsibilities under the law," says
Amy O'Meara of Amnesty International USA. "Dow must ensure
that Union Carbide appear before the Bhopal Court. Victims have
the right to be heard in court, and multinational companies shouldn't
be able to skip town or hide behind subsidiaries or mergers. This
case tragically demonstrates that transnational companies need to
be better regulated to eliminate corporate complicity in human rights
Read Amnesty International’s complete report
online at http://web.amnesty.org/pages/ec-bhopal-eng.
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chemical wastes have contaminated a vast swathe of Bhopal with
dangerous toxins and chemical compounds. Abandoned vats of pesticides
stain the old factory grounds, and acres of fertile cropland
have been left sterile and desert-like by chemical seepage from
Union Carbide's “solar evaporation ponds.” Children
play in the wasteland despite the danger.
In 1999, testing
near the site revealed mercury at levels between 20,000 and
6 million times those expected. Carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals
have also poisoned
the water supply; trichloroethene, a chemical that has been
shown to impair fetal development, was found at levels 50 times
higher than EPA safety limits. Testing published in a 2002
report revealed poisons such as 1,3,5 trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane,
chloroform, lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing women.
Although “polluter’s pay” is the law in India,
Dow refutes the principle and has adamantly refused any responsibility
for a cleanup. (3) Until Dow-Carbide cleans
up its contamination in Bhopal, it will continue to spread, leach,
and poison everything in its path, extending the “dead zone”
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Safety and Health
Bhopal taught the chemical industry that accidents aren’t
worth the cost of prevention. Instead, two decades after the disaster,
accidents are frighteningly regular at the 15,000 chemical facilities
United States. Dow Chemical, for example, reported
2562 accidents between 1990 and 2003, and the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) has identified 112 facilities where a Bhopal-like
accident or terrorist attack would endanger the lives of more than
a million people (see
where they are).
Even without an accident, so many hazardous chemicals are released
that the EPA set up a reporting system called the Toxics Release
Inventory (TRI). In 2003, according to the TRI, releases of almost
650 toxic chemicals were reported, totaling more than 4.44
billion pounds. Some of those releases may have been in your
We all remain at risk because – even in the wake of Bhopal
- the chemical industry has never felt the sting of accountability.
Two decades later, we’re all living in Bhopal.
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Rule of Law
“The law is like a web, big insects fly right through
it, only the little ones get caught…”
In 23 years, Union Carbide has never had to defend its actions
in open court, and has never had to face those who lost their health,
their livelihoods, and their loved ones. Instead, like a fugitive,
it has fled the criminal charges of culpable homicide that it faces
in India, and still refuses to appear despite multiple summons dating
back to 1991. From the United States, the company thumbs its nose:
"Union Carbide and Mr. (Warren) Anderson, the former CEO, are
named in [the criminal case]. They have not come forward. Their
position on the matter is that the Indian government has no jurisdiction
over Union Carbide or Mr. Anderson; therefore, they are not appearing
in court," John Musser, Dow’s spokesman, commented
in 2003. In a congressional letter signed and sent in July,
2003, 18 U.S. Representatives put
things differently: "More disturbing is the manner in which
Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have ignored the summons of the Bhopal
court. This exposes a blatant disregard for the law."
Showing no shame, Dow has even sued
nonviolent Bhopal protestors for daring to rally outside its
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Union Carbide workers led the fight to keep safety measures in
place before the disaster. Worker's unions petitioned factory management,
local communities, local and national officials and
even Carbide management in the US about the dangers at the Bhopal
plant: the result was suppression of the union, the sacking of three
leaders and the continued de-skilling and downsizing of staffing
levels under a savage cost-cutting program orchestrated by the US
parent. None of the plant’s safety systems functioned on the
night of the disaster, a spectacular failure. Yet Carbide swiftly
blamed a worker for sabotage (Dow and Carbide still
make the claim today, and still refuse to name him).
Unions have been at the forefront of the Bhopal campaign from the
start. In a rehabilitation scheme, gas-affected women were given
stationary work by the state government, but paid so poorly they
refused it as an insult. In 1987 they formed the BGPMSKS, or Bhopal
Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union, and chanted their
demands from dawn to dusk in front of the Chief Minister's office.
Unsatisfied, on June 1st, 1989, more than 100 women, many with children
in their arms, marched
750 kilometers to New Delhi to petition the Prime Minister.
Many sold everything to join the march, and a few suffered miscarriages.
Even after returning, it took months of struggle before some of
their demands were met.
The women survivors of BGPMSKS are the core of the International
Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. The President of BGPMSKS, Rashida
Bee, and its Secretary Champa Devi Shukla, were awarded the Goldman
Environmental Prize in 2004 for their leadership of the campaign.
"When Governments and Corporations do not live up to their
obligations, it is only solidarity among workers, trade unions and
people's groups that can carry us forward," Rashida told the
annual gathering of PACE employees in Clare, Michigan, in 2003.
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before the Union Carbide plant turned Bhopal into a gas chamber,
workers at the plant paid the ultimate price for Carbide’s
decision to cut corners on safety for the sake of profit. On December
25, 1981, a leak of phosgene killed one worker, Ashraf Khan, at
the plant and severely injured two others. On January 9, 1982, twenty
five workers were hospitalized as a result of another leak at the
plant. During the "safety week" proposed by management
to address worker grievances about the Bhopal facility, repeated
incidents of such toxic leakage took place and workers took the
opportunity to complain directly to the American management officials
present. In the wake of these incidents, workers at the plant demanded
hazardous duty pay scales commensurate with the fact that they were
required to handle hazardous substances. These requests were denied.
Bhopal is a stark reminder that occupational health issues can
quickly become public health catastrophes, particularly in the petrochemical
industry. Twenty years later, many of Union Carbide’s former
workers in Bhopal are still fighting the company for adequate compensation
and have requested access to the results of blood testing and examinations
that Union Carbide conducted on its employees prior to the disaster.
These requests have also been denied.
By contrast, the
occupational health community has been supportive. In November,
2004, two gas survivors and leaders of the International Campaign
for Justice in Bhopal, Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, were
awarded the Occupational
Health & Safety Award by the American Public Health Association.
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Right to Know
Bhopal marked the birth of the modern right-to-know movement.
Carbide management declined to inform local communities about the
hazards in the plant or how to protect themselves and had no emergency
planning or evacuation plan. The result was thousands of avoidable
deaths. As a consequence of Bhopal, 'right-to-know'
legislation was enacted in the US and elsewhere.
Today Dow-Carbide still refuses to release all of its medical research
on the health effects of the gases to treating physicians, calling
the information a 'trade secret'. (4)
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Poverty and Hunger
"Many have been forced into destitution, some of the
world's poorest people beggared by one of the world's richest corporations,
from which came platitudes and evasions but no help."
Twenty years after the disaster, more than 120,000 people in Bhopal
are still ill. (5) Their breathless bodies
no longer able to push handcarts and lift heavy loads, thousands
have fallen into destitution and their families have learned the
lessons of the abyss, binding cloths round their middles to give
an illusion of fullness, giving children unable to sleep from hunger
water to fill their empty bellies. Trapped in a cycle of poverty
and desperation, their children – often ill themselves –
have little hope for a better future.
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Women and Children
Bhopal’s women and children have suffered the most. According
to Champa Devi Shukla and Rashida Bee, two gas survivors and leaders
of the international campaign, this is why the movement
for justice is led
“The women are facing the worst of it. They face the worst
illnesses. Their children are born deformed. They get cancer. Girls
who are 15 look like they are six. Women don’t have their
periods, and then they can’t have children. And the problems
have only been compounded after 23 years. You have children born
with birth defects. Women have to watch as their children endure
all kinds of operations.
“And parents have to worry about their daughters not getting
married. Potential grooms all wonder about how their family line
will continue if they marry women who aren’t having their
periods or who give birth to deformed children. Potential in-laws
only worry about what they will do if these girls get sick - why
should they have to bear the cost of caring for them and feeding
them? The illnesses are getting worse, too - TB, cancer. If you
look at all these things together, you can see why this is a women’s
Bee: “They even found poison in breast milk - mercury and
other poisons. And when infants drink poisoned breast milk, what
chance do they really have in life? That poison goes straight to
their brains and causes permanent injuries. When a child has a brain
injury, what meaning can his life have?
“The children do not grow well; they have growth retardation.
A girl who is six years old looks like a toddler. One who is 12
looks like she is 6 years old. That’s how severely affected
the development of the children is in Bhopal. And their illnesses
are the kinds that affect the children psychologically. They ask
us all the time about how they will survive and how they will live
with these illnesses. They hear that people develop cancer after
ten years of exposure to the area and the water. And the children
are asking what their lives can mean - what is the use of their
lives. That’s what it is like in Bhopal.”
Infanticide by Pesticide
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estimates that 22,000 people were gassed to death in Bhopal,
including thousands of women and children. Today 30 people die each
month from the effects of their exposure, and the death toll from
Dow-Carbide’s chemical violence continues to rise. (6)
More than 120,000 people are critically ill and in desperate need
of medical care, and thousands of children have been born
with birth defects, learning disabilities, and stunted growth.
Even the breast milk of nursing mothers has been contaminated, and
the chemical terror won’t end until Dow cleans up its killing
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(1) Anderson and Union Carbide both stand accused
of culpable homicide (manslaughter), grievous assault, poisoning
and killing of animals and other offenses. Although the Indian Government
published proclamations in The Washington Post (January 1st and
February 21st, 1992) calling on Mr. Anderson and the Union Carbide
Corporation (UCC) to present themselves before the court in Bhopal,
neither has obeyed the summons. Both have been labeled “absconders”
from justice by the Indian Government. Mr. Anderson disappeared
shortly after Interpol released an international warrant for his
arrest, and his whereabouts were unknown for more than a decade.
See The Washington Post. “India Seeks to Reduce Charge
Facing Ex-Union Carbide Boss.” Rama Lakshmi, July 8, 2002.
See also the BBC. “India to Extradite Bhopal Boss.”
September 6, 2002. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2240895.stm.
(2) According to Union Carbide’s own documentation,
obtained through discovery in the New York civil suit. Much of this
documentation is available online, at http://www.bhopal.net/poisonpapers.html.
See also New Scientist Magazine. “Fresh evidence
on Bhopal disaster.” December 2, 2002. Available at: http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993140.
And: The Financial Express. “Global Funds Tell Union
Carbide To Settle Bhopal Gas Leak Claims.” Ajay Jain, December
5, 2002. Available at: http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=23259.
(3) Dow has argued that since it does not own the
former Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal (the site was only leased
from the Madhya Pradesh government, and that lease has expired),
it cannot be held responsible for the contamination there. This
stand is contradicted by the Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling)
Rule of 1989 594(E), Section 3 Sub section (1) and Section 4(1),
which stipulates that the producers of the contaminated waste are
responsible for decontamination. The “polluter pays”
principle is also enshrined in the Environmental Protection Act,
passed in India in 1986. Ruling in Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum
v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC.647, the Indian Supreme Court declared
that, “. . .Once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently
dangerous, the person carrying on such activity is liable to make
good the loss caused to any other person by his activity irrespective
of the fact whether he took reasonable care while carrying on his
activity. The rule is premised upon the very nature of the activity
carried on.” Elaborating on the “polluter pays”
principle in MC Mehta v. Union of India (1997) 2 SCC 353, the Supreme
Court ruled that “polluter pays” principle as interpreted
by the Court means that “the absolute liability for harm to
the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution
but also of restoring the environment degradation.” Nevertheless,
Dow continues to argue that the Madhya Pradesh government is responsible
for the cleanup (see the Daily Environment Report, No. 144, Monday,
July 28, 2003). Additionally, an estimated $300 million of Union
Carbide’s 1989 settlement remains undistributed to the victims.
Although these funds exist solely to compensate the Bhopal victims
for the loss of their health, their livelihoods, and their loved
ones, Dow has suggested that the balance of these funds could be
used to pay for a cleanup—turning the “polluter pays”
principle entirely on its head. In summary, Dow has said both that
local government should pay for the clean up AND that gas survivors
should pay—the first is in contravention of lawful principle
and common sense, while the second contradicts all notions of human
decency. See The Midland Daily News. “Annual Meeting
Draws Protests, Questions.” Beth Medley Bellor, May 10th,
(4) Cited in The New York Times. “Bhopal
Seethes, Pained and Poor 18 Years Later.” Amy Waldman, September
21, 2002. This refusal is inexplicable, as ‘trade secret’
provisions do not, in fact, apply. This was revealed in a Chemical
Manufacturers Association (CMA) meeting shortly after the Bhopal
disaster, at which Union Carbide representatives were present: “Trade
secret protections under the federal standard extend only to chemical
identity, not hazard information. …Chemical identity information
which is a trade secret is made available to those who have a legitimate
need for it, such as treating physicians.” See page 34 of
the CMA Executive Committee Meeting Agenda, January 28, 1985, available
(5) The Washington Post. “India Seeks
to Reduce Charge Facing Ex-Union Carbide Boss.” Rama Lakshmi,
July 8, 2002. According to The International Medical Commission,
Bhopal, “it is our opinion that, if properly defined, categories
of permanent damage, partial or total disability, could include
about 200,000 survivors.” International Perspectives in
Public Health, 1996, Volumes 11 and 12, p. 27.
(6) According to The Centre for Rehabilitation Studies’
(an office of the Madhya Pradesh government’s Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Relief and Rehabilitation Dept.) 1998 Annual Report, the mortality
rate among the exposed community in 1997 was 6.70/1000, whereas
in the unexposed community it was 5.37/1000, producing a figure
of 665 deaths above the mortality rate in the exposed community
- or approximately 50 gas related deaths per month. No official
figures exist for subsequent years. Further, according to a 1987
ICMR report, the mortality rate in the exposed community was 9.98/100
and in the unexposed community was 6.03/1000, meaning approximately
150 gas related deaths per month in 1986. Assuming a steady ratio
of depreciation in mortality of 6% per year, in 2003 there were
therefore over 30 deaths per month due to gas exposure. However,
it is worth noting that six monthly morbidity studies conducted
by the ICMR between 1987-1991 show that the number of people with
gas related symptoms actually increased in that period.