Thursday, August 07, 2014

Amnesty International asks chemical giant Dow to come clean on 1984 Bhopal gas catastrophe

By Our Representative
Amnesty International, one of world’s prestigious human rights organizations, has asked the Dow Chemical Company to “stop dodging its responsibility towards the survivors of the Bhopal disaster” and take full responsibility for “the catastrophic 1984 gas leak which left thousands dead and many more with chronic and debilitating illnesses”. In a statement issue from its London headquarters, Amnesty said, “The time has come for Dow to appear in an Indian court and account for the failure of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide, to respond to the criminal charges against it.”
Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director for Global Issues, who signed the statement, said, “Refusing to comply with the summons would be to treat the Indian justice system with contempt, undermining Dow’s credibility as an investor in India.” 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 Corporation (UCC), the US-based multinational that was majority owner of the company that operated the plant at the time of the leak.
UCC has “ignored” orders to appear before the Indian courts to answer criminal charges concerning the disaster, he said, adding, The summons makes it clear that, as 100% owner, Dow has a responsibility to ensure UCC 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.”
The statement said, “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.” The criminal summons were issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal, is the third such summons to US-based Dow. The company has been called to appear on November 12, 2014, to explain why it has not produced its wholly-owned subsidiary UCC before the court.
Since it bought UCC in 2001, Dow has maintained that it is a separate company from UCC and has no responsibility for Bhopal. In a recent letter to Amnesty International, Dow stated that “any efforts to directly involve [Dow] in legal proceedings in India concerning the 1984 Bhopal tragedy are without merit”. Amnesty comments, “Dow’s position shows a complete disregard for the Indian criminal process and the rights to justice and remedy of the survivors of Bhopal.”
It further said, “Dow has 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’.”
Meanwhile, Dow has been trying to invest in India. Its first effort was in 2008, when it entered into an agreement with the state-run caustic soda major Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Ltd (GACL) to set up 100,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) at Dahej in Gujarat. The GACL snapped the deal in 2012 after it found that Dow was taking “so much time in implementing the project.” Dow was one of the important international participants in the Vibrant Gujarat summit of January 2009.

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