Toxic Games

On December 2-3, 1984, as the people of the central Indian town of Bhopal slept, over 40 tons of a deadly toxic gas — methyl isocyanate — leaked from the pesticide plant owned by Dow Chemical subsidiary Union Carbide India Limited. Company executives could have warned the public, but instead chose not to sound the emergency alarm bell in town, sending confused parents and children fleeing directly into the poison cloud.

The Bhopal disaster — the worst industrial disaster in history — has so far claimed over 20,000 lives. And the death toll is still rising, 27 years later, because Dow Chemical — the company responsible — has never cleaned it up. To this day, chronic health problems, cancer, and birth defects plague over 150,000 people in this impoverished community.

Now, despite loud protests by the Indian Olympic delegation, Dow has signed a controversial sponsorship deal with the Olympics expected to make Dow $1 billion. With Dow counting on that revenue, we have the best chance in years for it to finally assume responsibility and clean up the disaster. We are finally hitting the company where it hurts: its bottom line.

Use the form at right to add your name to an urgent petition calling on LOCOG to drop Dow Chemical as an Olympic sponsor unless they agree to clean up their mess.  On March 30, our friends at Change.org will deliver these petitions to the London Olympic Organisers.

In many ways, Dow is the poster child for corporate wrong-doing. Its executives are putting their profits ahead of ethical and legal responsibilities to the suffering Bhopal community. If this disaster happened in the United States or another developed country, Dow couldn’t just have abandoned thousands to die and suffer crippling diseases — but because the victims are poor and Indian, Dow has been able to ignore their plight.

This week, London 2012 organisers are gathering with the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, and the chair of the IOC coordination commission, Denis Oswald. On Friday, along with our friends at Change.org, we will deliver over 34,000 petitions to the London Olympic organizers. This is a critical opportunity to speak out for the victims of Bhopal on the world’s biggest stage.

With Dow aiming to make millions off the Olympics, we have a rare opportunity to put real pressure on the company to do the right thing — clean up the mess in Bhopal that’s still killing people, and fully compensate the disaster’s victims — and punish it if it won’t.

Dow’s behavior towards the people of Bhopal is one of the most monstrous examples of corporate irresponsibility. If we allow Dow to profit from the Olympics of all events, the worst corporations in the world will see that they can get away with anything. But if we act together, SumOfUs members can send a powerful message to those same corporations that consumers around the world will stand by their victims until they see justice.

Thanks,

–Emma, Kaytee and the rest of us at SumOfUs

Background Information

What happened in Bhopal?
On December 2-3, 1984, as the people of the central Indian town of Bhopal slept, an explosion caused over 40 tons of a deadly toxic gas, methyl isocyanate (MIC), and other gases from the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant. The company executives could have warned the public, but instead they chose not to sound the emergency alarm bell in town.

The event occurred in the early hours of the morning of Dec 3rd 1984, at approximately 12:30 a.m. By 2am, most of the MIC had been dispersed over an area of 25 miles (40km), and the first deaths were reported to the police by 3am. By morning, there had been 1,000 reported deaths, some as far as 5 miles (8 km) from the plant. 90,000 patients were seen in local hospitals and clinics within the first 24 hours, and in total, about 200,000 people suffered acute effects of the leak.

The preventable Bhopal disaster has claimed over 20,000 lives, and it is not over yet because members of the community continue to suffer from chronic health problems, cancer and birth defects.

How has Dow responded?
Dow claims that it is not responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in any way. Despite that, they hired the same public relations firm that worked to tell people tobacco didn’t cause cancer, and that Foxconn hired to repair its public image around working conditions in Apple factories in China.

Union Carbide paid $470 million in compensation to existing victims in 1989, amounting to less than $500 per victim whether they were blinded by the gas, developed terminal cancer from exposure, or suffered debilitating birth defects. To date, neither Union Carbide nor Dow has paid to clean up the site, and they have refused to even decommission the factory after the accident.

Why is Dow responsible for the situation?
No one disputes the fact that Dow bought Union Carbide after the disaster occurred. But when Dow purchased Union Carbide, it took on liability for the Bhopal tragedy. It would be terribly convenient for Dow and other massive corporations if the slate was wiped clean when a company was purchased. But Dow didn’t just buy the profit sheet, the shares and the expertise from Union Carbide. They also bought their legacy, the environmental tragedy of Bhopal and the responsibility for it. Dow must ensure that the site is cleaned up and the victims finally get true justice and proper compensation. If a company could escape liability for its malpractices by arranging a merger or takeover, then companies would be able to abuse human rights and damage the environment with impunity.