‘Dow's position is pure hypocrisy - they reap Union Carbide profits but balk at its obligations’ - Audrey Gaughran
The US-based Dow Chemical Company must stop dodging its responsibility towards the survivors of the Bhopal disaster, Amnesty International said today, after an Indian Court issued a third criminal summons to the company over the catastrophic 1984 gas leak which left thousands dead and many more with chronic and debilitating illnesses.
The criminal summons, issued today by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal, is the third such summons to Dow. The company has been called to appear on 12 November to explain why it has not ensured that its wholly-owned subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation has appeared before the court.
Under Indian law, Dow is required to respond to the summons once properly served. Amnesty understands that the second summons, issued in February, was not properly served on Dow.
For 13 years, US chemical giant Dow has denied that it has any responsibility towards the victims and survivors of Bhopal. In 2001, Dow acquired Union Carbide, the US-based multinational that was majority owner of the company that operated the plant at the time of the leak. Union Carbide Corporation has repeatedly ignored orders to appear before the Indian courts to answer criminal charges concerning the disaster. Today’s summons makes it clear that, as 100% owner, Dow has a responsibility to ensure Union Carbide faces these charges.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the disaster. An estimated 22,000 people died following the leak and more than 570,000 were exposed to damaging levels of toxic gas. Many people in Bhopal still suffer from serious health problems. Pollution from the abandoned site has contaminated the local water supply and poses an ongoing threat to the health of surrounding communities.
Amnesty International’s Director for Global Issues Audrey Gaughran said:
“Dow's position is pure hypocrisy - they reap Union Carbide profits but balk at its obligations.
“For over a decade Dow has been allowed to ignore the ongoing human rights disaster in Bhopal. The company must stop shirking its responsibilities to the survivors of Bhopal by complying with this summons and explaining why Union Carbide has failed to appear before the court.”
Since it bought Union Carbide in 2001, Dow has maintained that it is a separate company from Union Carbide and has no responsibility for Bhopal. In a recent letter to Amnesty, Dow stated that “any efforts to directly involve [Dow] in legal proceedings in India concerning the 1984 Bhopal tragedy are without merit”.
Amnesty believes that Dow’s position shows a complete disregard for the Indian criminal process and the rights to justice and remedy of the survivors of Bhopal. Dow has also tried to interfere with the judicial process in order to avoid being involved in court proceedings. In a 2005 communication, revealed following a Right to Information request in India, Dow lobbied the Indian government to “implement a consistent, government-wide position that does not promote continued GoI [government of India] litigation efforts against non-Indian companies over the Bhopal tragedy”. Dow also promised significant future investment in India in an attempt to secure the support of high-ranking government officials for its demand to stop all legal action against the company in India.
In defending its position on Bhopal, Dow has also sought to use the law to its advantage. An Indian subsidiary of Dow has gone on the offensive against Bhopal survivors and activists, seeking restraining orders banning protests and recently trying to sue peaceful demonstrators for business losses incurred during a protest last year. Dow’s management has also used US securities rules to block a shareholder resolution in May asking for a report on the financial, reputational and operational impact of the catastrophe on Dow’s business.
30 years without justice
Criminal proceedings for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” were launched against US-based Union Carbide in 1984, relating to the company’s responsibility for the gas leak. The case against Union Carbide is ongoing because the company has never appeared before the Indian courts to answer charges against it. In addition to the criminal case, Union Carbide and Dow are embroiled in two civil suits in India relating to the gas leak and contamination at the former plant site. One of these cases, filed by the government of India to claim additional compensation from Union Carbide, Dow and other companies for death and injuries resulting from the gas leak, will be heard before the Indian Supreme Court tomorrow. Union Carbide is also still involved in a civil suit in the US concerning the contamination. The US case was dismissed last week despite the plaintiffs submitting new evidence that Union Carbide oversaw the construction of the Bhopal plant. The plaintiffs are appealing against the decision.
Under a treaty between India and the US on criminal matters, the present summons will be communicated by the Indian government to the US government for service on Dow at their US headquarters in Michigan.