Demands of Survivors of Union Carbide Disaster & those poisoned by Dow Chemical in Bhopal on the 39th Anniversary of the disaster.
Demands of Survivors of Union Carbide Disaster & those poisoned by Dow Chemical in Bhopal on the 39th Anniversary of the disaster.
More than 150,000 people were left severely disabled, and 22,000 people have since died of their injuries. For these reasons the Bhopal gas disaster is widely acknowledged as the WORLD’S WORST-EVER INDUSTRIAL DISASTER.
More than 27 tons of methyl isocyanate and other deadly gases turned Bhopal into a gas chamber. None of the six safety systems at the plant were functional, and Union Carbide’s own documents prove the company designed the plant with “unproven” and “untested” technology, and cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.
In 1989 a settlement was reached between Union Carbide and the Government of India, awarding each survivor only $500 for life-long debilitating injuries. This means survivors have been given less than 5 cents per day – the cost of a cup of tea – to pay for decades of medical bills. Many have lost the ability to work because of their health problems and live in dire poverty. On top of this, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that the next generation – children of gas-affected parents – are themselves afflicted by Union Carbide’s poison. Yet these children have received no help from Union Carbide or the Government of India.
Union Carbide abandoned Bhopal and did not cleaning up its factory site. For years it had been dumping chemicals and wastes around the factory grounds, and these have leaked into the soil and contaminated the drinking water of 30,000+ people. Tens of thousands of people drank the water for years, and Union Carbide told no one of the risks. 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 living near the factory. Many of the people who drank the water have become too sick to work, but they have received no help. Meanwhile, the contaminated land has never been cleaned up, and families too poor to move live on top of the contaminated soil.
Recent reports confirm that the contamination is getting worse. Water from one hand pump in Atal Ayub Nagar, already lethal by 1999, has become seven times more toxic since then. The rate of birth defects in the contaminated areas is ten times higher than in the rest of India. Cancers and other diseases are rife.
In 2001, Dow Chemical purchased 100% of Union Carbide. The survivors, as well as the governments of India and Bhopal’s state Madhya Pradesh, hold that Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide’s liabilities through the purchase. Indeed, immediately after the acquisition, Dow set aside $2.2 billion to meet Union Carbide asbestos liablilities in the USA. However it bluntly refuses to accept Carbide’s liabilities in Bhopal – or even admit that they exist – even though there is still a pending criminal court case against Union Carbide currently in Bhopal. Union Carbide has refused to show up to court, and Dow Chemical is considered to be hiding a fugitive from justice.
To this date, Dow/Union Carbide has REFUSED to: clean up the site, which continues to contaminate those near it, or to provide just compensation for those who have been injured or made ill by this poison; fund medical care, health monitoring and necessary research studies, or even to provide all the information it has on the leaked gases and their medical consequences; provide alternate livelihood opportunities to victims who cannot pursue their usual trade because of their exposure-induced illnesses; stand trial before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal, where Union Carbide faces criminal charges of culpable homicide (manslaughter), and has fled these charges for decades.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) has been fighting for decades for the survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster.
Learn more about what caused the disaster and its aftermath.
“We should never lose sight of the fact that Bhopal can happen in the United States.” -Al Cholger, an international representative for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE), speaking in the July, 2003 (Edition of “Labor Notes”)
“We are aware that the day we succeed in holding Dow Chemical liable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal it will be good news for ordinary people all over the world. From that day chemical corporations will think twice before producing and peddling poisons and putting profits before the lives and health of people.” -Gas survivor Rashida Bee, who lost five gas-exposed family members to cancers
Justice? Corporate Accountability? Environmental Justice? Globalization? Human Rights? Environment? Safety and Health? The Rule of Law? Labor Rights? Occupational Health? The Right to Know? Poverty and Hunger? The rights of women and children? 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 for everybody.
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 withculpable 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.
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 a share.
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.
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 immoral.
Bhopal was not only a disaster, but was also, and continues to be, a fundamental violation of human rights. Amnesty International cites Bhopal – 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 of living.
“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 abuses.”
“The law is like a web, big insects fly right through it, only the little ones get caught…”
For decades 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 Indian headquarters.
Long 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.
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)
“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.
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 at: http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org/search/pdfs/cma/19850128_00000473.pdf.
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.