Four decades on, 120,000+ people are still plagued with ill-health
LONDON, UK – 2 December 2021
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has written a personal appeal* to Dow Inc CEO, Jim Fitterling, urging him to “remedy nearly 40 years of racism, inequality and injustice in Bhopal” by agreeing to fully compensate the victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster.
Since becoming one of the few openly gay Fortune 500 CEO’s, Fitterling has positioned US chemical giant Dow Inc as a progressive company “taking action to accelerate change and address racism, inequality, and injustice”. But he has not made good this commitment with regard to the 120,000 people who are still experiencing long-term health problems as a result of the 1984 Bhopal catastrophe.
Tatchell points out that when the former Dow Chemical took over US multinational Union Carbide in 2001, thereby inheriting its legal liabilities, the latter was a fugitive from homicide charges stemming from the company’s involvement in the events of December 3rd, 1984, when a Union Carbide pesticides factory gushed poison gas into the city of Bhopal, killing thousands and maiming hundreds of thousands more.
Though some 26 years after the horrific disaster seven Indians were charged with criminal negligence, none of the foreign accused in the case have submitted to the unresolved proceedings in India. As a corporation, Union Carbide is charged since 1991 with the serious offence of culpable homicide, but refuses to appear in court.
Carbide’s parent company, Dow, has been summoned six times in the same case since 2014 but is yet to attend. Dow is also named in civil (2010) and environmental (2004) cases in India seeking billions of dollars in additional victim compensation, and the clean-up of the former Union Carbide factory site, which was abandoned full of buried toxic waste contaminants, which have now leached into the drinking wells of 48 local communities.
The medical impacts of the 1984 gas disaster continue to unfold. 120,000 people remain chronically ill from the long-term effects of the gas disaster. Their mortality rate is 28% higher than average, and they are twice as likely to die of cancers, diseases of the lungs and tuberculosis, and three times as likely to die from kidney diseases. This year it was found that though they make up only 17% of the Indian city’s population, Bhopal victims account for almost one in two deaths from Covid-19.
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes to Fitterling:
“If, rather than being poor, brown Indians, the victims of Union Carbide’s appalling 1984 gas disaster had been white, privileged Americans, I doubt that I would need ask why you appear to believe that your company shouldn’t subject itself to a criminal justice process that seeks legitimate redress for the avoidable deaths of thousands of innocent people?
“I really hope that you can be the person to put right the mistakes of the past, which is why I am writing to you with this heartfelt plea for action for the Bhopal victims.”
*A copy of Mr Tatchell’s FULL letter to Jim Fitterling is available upon request.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Dow’s (since 2019 Dow Inc) wholly-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has been an absconder from Indian justice since 1992. It is wanted on charges of ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’, drawn up following a criminal investigation that began in the hours after the December 1984 Bhopal disaster. The 100% shareholder, Dow, has not produced UCC in court. Since 2014 there have been six summonses from the same Indian court requesting Dow to explain its non-production of UCC. Campaigners accuse Dow of ‘harbouring a fugitive from justice’.
Dow settles Union Carbide cases in the US but NOT India.
Dow has accepted liability for claims against UCC pre-dating the merger in the United States, related to asbestos exposure. In contrast, Dow claims in Indian courts that it is not responsible for any UCC liabilities. Why the double standards?
In 2010, India filed a petition in its Supreme Court for additional civil compensation from Union Carbide and Dow of $1.2 billion. Other claims in the same case total $8 billion. The case remains pending because of the Dow / UCC non-compliance with Indian court orders.