BBC London News ran a story on the current protests by India against Dow Chemicals sponsoring the wrap round the main stadium for India claims Dow Chemicals has not paid due compensation to the victims of the Bhopal disaster of 1984 when Dow’s wholly owned subsidiary Union Carbide was held responsible for accidentally releasing a toxic gas into the area, exposing overall a Â½ million people.
A population of 40,000 people in the near vicinity were directly affected by the gas leak of which 10%, 4,000 people died immediately due to this disaster. Union Carbide did make an out of court settlement then but only after the Indian Government sued the company. However the settlement with a handful of Indian Government officials meant that there was pittance left for the then known poor victims. As far as the people and the courts were concerned the issue was never settled especially as the effects of that chemical radiation crystallised much later in people’s bodies, resulting in a total of 15,000 deaths and in fact there are recent cases of even the surviving victims’ children being born disabled
Dow Chemicals took over Union Carbide in 1999 for $10bn and thus its assets and liabilities but now Dow is washing its hands off its adverse liabilities by claiming that the disaster took place before it took over Union Carbide. The argument is legally flawed but sadly they have no humanitarian compulsion either.
Dow, an American Company, as was Union Carbide, generates a revenue stream of $50bn a year from the sale of its thousands of chemical products to world markets, yielding a 10% net profit of around $5bn a year. Yet it cannot afford to pay a couple of billion dollars to help the poor who are made destitute by the direct action of its wholly owned subsidiary. Contrast this case with a British Company BP who after their ecological disaster in America in 2010 immediately set aside Â£24bn to clean up their mess and have just paid out Â£5bn in damages to American businesses for loss of earnings from the fishery industry. Yet the 15,000 deaths and other people suffering from the Bhopal disaster are being shown to have no value of life at all by this chemical corporate giant.
Who is liable in such cases as we move to a more globalised economics? First it has to be the Company and its shareholders, failing which, there must be recourse to the Governments who have extracted tax revenue from the Company’s profits. It is not so much a case of legalities even but rather of humanitarian responsibility in such disasters of mega proportions. In BP’s case the damage was to the ecology but in Dow’s case the damage is much more horrible to people themselves, and causing generational disabilities to their newly born offspring.
We welcome Dow’s contribution towards Olympics sponsorships but it should not run away from its harsher responsibilities elsewhere.
Watch the BBC London News Report here under this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17224386
Anil Bhanot OBE
Hindu Council UK