Sprick up your ears

UNION CARBIDE RE-EMERGES FROM THE BOWELS OF DOW

Letters to Dow Chemical about Bhopal are now being answered by one Tomm F. Sprick as follows: Your inquiry concerning Union Carbide and its position on the Bhopal tragedy was forwarded to me at Union Carbide since I am UCC’s spokesman on the tragedy.” Sprick’s sudden reappearance (he left Dow in December 2002) follows the mysterious re-emergence of Union Carbide itself.

On 2nd September 2004 Union Carbide Corporation miraculously reappeared from the dead and is in the process of being reinvented for purposes of public relations.

After the 2001 merger with Dow Chemical, activists and others pursuing Union Carbide found it had disappeared. Although the name still existed, for all practical purposes, the corporation had vanished into the bowels of Dow. Carbide’s ‘board’ were Dow executives. Carbide did not even have its own website, if you looked for www.ucarbide.com (aka www.unioncarbide.com) you’d finding yourself staring at the front page of dow.com.

On 2nd September, panicking Dow executives began a frantic drive to convince the world that Dow and Union Carbide are separate corporations which have nothing to do with each other.

The reason for this, as for the original disappearance, was Bhopal.

In the Central Magistrate’s Court court in Bhopal, Union Carbide Corporation and its ex-CEO Warren Anderson stand accused of the culpable homicide of more than 20,000 human beings. Since 1992, the corporation and Anderson have refused to appear before the court. They have never sent representatives to explain why. In their absence the case has been stalled for 12 years, during which some 3,500 victims of the disaster have perished from their injuries without justice.

In the US, Carbide’s new owner Dow vigorously denied that the case even existed. In May 2003 Dow CEO William Stavropoulos told the company’s shareholders that no criminal proceedings were outstanding against Carbide. Later, challenged by campaigners and the press, a spokesman admitted, “Our chairman did misspeak.”

This misspeaking, or to give it its proper name, lying, was no new strategy for a Dow board tempted by Carbide’s assets but embarrassed by its legacy. During the takeover, Dow’s submission to the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) failed to mention that Carbide still faced outstanding criminal charges in India.

Somewhere along the line, Dow got complacent. It overlooked the fact that something new had happened in the Bhopal case. The court had summoned a representative of Dow to explain why its 100% owned subsidiary had not appeared for trial, and why it, Dow, should not be named as a defendant in Carbide’s place. This hearing would take place on 3rd September.

With less than 24 hours to go someone at Dow woke up to the danger that the vanishing act designed to protect Carbide could now seriously damage Dow. “Quick!” went out the order, “do whatever you can to make Union Carbide look separate from Dow”. Overnight, a hastily flung together website appeared. It had only two pages, identical in design to Dow’s. The other pages were linked back to dow.com with the feeble comment that – “Some unioncarbide.com content is hosted on www.dow.com, the website of our parent company.”

On 3rd September 2004 Dow’s representative told the court that there was absolutely no connection between the activities, responsibilities and liabilities of Dow Chemical and Union Carbide Corporation. But had you looked for ucarbide.com on 2nd September 2004 what would you have found? Luckily, we can see, because Google keeps a cache.

On 2nd September Union Carbide was still lost in the bowels of Dow.

This game of smoke and mirrors is nothing new. Nor are the points in Dow’s statement about Bhopal as circulated by Tomm Sprick. They have all been rebutted a hundred times before.

Sprick had left Dow in December 2002 to join Ross Public Affairs Group. In his own words he was one of the last UCC employees to leave Dow, which only confirms that UCC as an independent company had ceased to exist. Now, like the website, he is miraculously back, so that Carbide can have its own spokesman.

It’s all part of the painful process of excreting Union Carbide from the bowels of Dow.

Please read the main article for a point by point rebuttal of Dow-Carbide’s position on Bhopal.

REBUTTAL OF DOW’S STATEMENT ON BHOPAL

The emotions Bhopal evokes in Dow/Carbide are fear and contempt: fear of being found guilty in a criminal case they are fugitives from, and contempt for their victims and the law.

Sprick: Your inquiry concerning Union Carbide and its position on the Bhopal tragedy was forwarded to me at Union Carbide since I am UCC’s spokesman on the tragedy. I have attached UCC’s position statement on the tragedy, and also recommend that you visit the website, www.unioncarbide.com/bhopal for additional information.

Statement of Union Carbide Corporation Regarding the Bhopal Tragedy

Dow says:
The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal was a terrible tragedy which understandably continues to evoke strong emotions even 20 years later. In the wake of the gas release, Union Carbide Corporation, and then- chairman Warren Anderson, worked diligently to provide aid to the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims. All claims arising out of the release were settled 15 years ago at the explicit direction and approval of the Supreme Court of India.

The facts:
In the wake of the disaster, Carbide and Warren Anderson worked diligently to delay legal proceedings, misinform doctors, hide assets and deny adequate relief. Civil claims were ended 13 years ago: environmental damages, criminal charges and, potentially, punitive damages remain pending.

Dow says:
The Bhopal plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India, Limited (UCIL), an Indian company in which Union Carbide Corporation held just over half the stock. The other stockholders included Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India. The plant was designed, built, and managed by UCIL using Indian consultants and workers. In 1994, Union Carbide sold its half interest in UCIL to MacLeod Russell (India) Limited of Calcutta, and UCIL was renamed Eveready Industries India, Limited. After the disaster, plant owner UCIL obtained permission from the government to conduct cleanup work at the site. Later, Eveready Industries continued this remediation effort until 1998 when the state government of Madyah (sic) Pradesh assumed control of the site and its remediation.

The facts:
Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) held a majority 50.9% stake in Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), through which it enacted control of management, budgets, operating and safety procedures and profits, as per corporate policy. The plant design was plotted and overseen on an ongoing basis by US based Carbide engineers, one of whom was employed as works manager until the end of 1982. In 1994, Carbide controversially, and against the wishes of the Bhopal court where it faced criminal charges, sold its UCIL shares, which had anyhow been attached by the court due to Carbide absconding from the criminal case. Despite the directions of the local government and evidence of severe community water poisoning, UCIL failed to clean up the contamination around the site. After Eveready Industries, its new guise, fled its responsibilities, the government filed legal suit to force it to clean up. This was soon followed by a survivors’ suit against Carbide in New York that is now close to trial.

Dow says:
As a result of the sale their shares in UCIL, Union Carbide retained no interest in – or liability for – the Bhopal site, and Eveready Industries took exclusive possession of the land under lease from the government of Madhya Pradesh. The proceeds of the UCIL sale were placed in a trust and exclusively used to fund a hospital in Bhopal, which now provides specialist care to victims of the tragedy.

The facts:
The polluter Carbide oversaw the failed remediation until at least 1995, hid internal reports dating back to 1989 that showed the pollution to be lethal, and watched its US-trained manager complete the abandonment of the site with keen interest yet refuses to pay for clean up in contradiction of US, Indian and international law. The Bhopal hospital, ordered by the Supreme Court and paid for by the criminal court’s attachments, took nearly nine years to build and has been heavily criticised for its practises. See earlier news stories on www.bhopal.net.

Dow says:
Shortly after the gas release, Union Carbide launched an aggressive effort to identify the cause. A thorough investigation was conducted by the engineering consulting fi rm Arthur D. Little. Its conclusion: The gas leak could only have been caused by deliberate sabotage. Someone purposely put water in the gas storage tank, causing a massive chemical reaction. Process safety systems had been put in place that would have kept the water from entering into the tank by accident.

The facts:
Straight after the deaths of at least 8,000 people, Carbide launched an aggressive effort to obscure the cause. The disaster could not have happened without the incautious design, poor materials, understaffing and inadequate safety systems caused by reckless cost-cutting, but Carbide hired Arthur D Little to provide pseudo-scientific backing to its utterly derided sabotage theory. An adequate set of safety processes would have anyway made sabotage impossible.

Dow says:
Union Carbide, along with the rest of the chemical industry, has worked to develop and globally implement Responsible Care in order to prevent any future events through improving community awareness, emergency preparedness, and process safety standards.

The facts:
Union Carbide and Dow’s CEOs developed the PR programme ‘Responsible Care’ to fend off legislative regulation of the chemical industry. In Bhopal, lest we forget, there was no emergency plan, no community information and a process safety system that required workers to act as leak detectors.

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