- Category: In brief
- Created: Friday, 02 December 2011 09:12
- Last Updated: Monday, 01 May 2017 09:00
- Published: Friday, 02 December 2011 09:12
- Written by Frank Pearce and Steve Tombs
- Hits: 3239
Today, 2nd December, marks yet another anniversary of the gas leak at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India – now, twenty seven years ago, in 1984. But this is not a matter of historical record – for remarkably, disgustingly, not only has justice for the victims still not been secured, but even as we write, further injustices continue to pour down on the people of that city. Satinath Sarangi, a leading Bhopali-based actvist, has just told us this:
"The perpetrators of the worst corporate massacre in history are absconding from charges of culpable homicide for the last 19 years and the corporation that is sheltering this fugitive from justice for the last 10 years is now the main sponsor of London Olympics 2012. It has been 27 years and the victims of Bhopal are still awaiting justice; time the international community sat up and took notice."
First, and as befits an anniversary, let us re-state the bare facts of what happened on the night of Sunday 2nd December, 1984, in the City of Bhopal – bare facts which themselves do no justice to the actual scale and relentlessness of violence wreaked on those people by multinational, toxic capital.
As we wrote in Part One of our series in CrimeTalk, estimates of those affected immediately and then in the longer term by the gas leak vary considerably. Initially the Indian Government stated that there had been 1,700 deaths immediate deaths, a figure subsequently revised upwards to 3,329. In 2004, an Amnesty International report marking the twentieth anniversary of the disaster claimed a minimum of 7000 immediate deaths, a subsequent 15,000, with a 100,000 'survivors' unable ever to work (Amnesty International, 2004). The Sambhavna clinic, established in Bhopal to treat the gas victims, has estimated that, “Half a million people were exposed to the gas and 25,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure.
More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site” (The Bhopal Medical Appeal, n.d.]). However reliable any of these estimates, it is clear that the disaster was one of almost unimaginable proportions, with continuing legacies: various chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and brain damage continue to be found in local groundwater and wells (ibid.), not to mention the environmental devastation and the effects upon people dependent upon land still poisoned by a chemical cocktail, and which has never been subject to any sustained ‘clean up’ operation.
We also noted in Part One that, although assuming the assets and liabilities of UCC in a hostile merger in 2001, Dow Chemical Corporation has consistently refused to accept responsibility for the clean up of the Bhopal area. And if that seemed, to some readers, a minor aside when we first wrote it, the issue of Dow’s ownership of this toxic legacy, a focus of campaigns by some for many years, has recently erupted into the headlines in the UK and beyond as that company’s pride-of-place role in the London 2012 Olympic games has been revealed.
In this context, it is worth noting what the Olympic movement claims its Games are about. The first of the seven ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’ is, according to the Olympic Charter, that “Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles”. The seventh and final principle is “7. Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter” (International Olympic Committee, 2011)
But Dow’s involvement evidences no ‘social responsibility’, no ‘joy’, no ‘good example’, no ‘respect for universal fundamental ethical principles’ – in short, no ‘compliance’ with the Charter. If these commitments are to be more than weasly words underpinning a festival of corporate sponsorship, then the position of Dow as “the official Chemistry Company of the Olympic Movement” (London 2012 Press Office, 2011), and its provision of a high-profile 'wrap' that will surround the Olympic Stadium during the Games, must be effectively challenged.
On announcing the venture, Lord Sebastian Coe, former Olympic gold-medallist and ex-Tory MP, now Chair of the London 20102 Organising Committee, stated:
"The stadium will look spectacular at Games time and having the wrap is the icing on the cake. I’m delighted that Dow, as one of the newer worldwide partners of the Olympic Movement, will be providing it and importantly doing it in a sustainable way. It reflects our vision and is a real statement of intent from Dow about their commitment to the Games." (London 2012 Press Office, 2011).
No such vision is reflected. For Dow has consistently refused, and continues to refuse, to meet its obligations to the people of Bhopal. When challenged on this, Lord Coe sought to provide a smokescreen for Dow, thus:
"I am the grandson of an Indian so I'm not completely unaware of this as an issue. But I am satisfied that at no time did Dow operate, own or were involved with the plant at the time of the disaster or the time of the full and final settlement." (Coe, cited in Gibson, 2011).
But Coe is at best disingenuous to imply Dow has no responsibilities for the suffering of the people of Bhopal. When Dow bought Union Carbide in 2001, it surely inherited its liabilities as well as its assets – morally, at least. These liabilities are significant and ongoing. Nor has there been, as Coe claims, a “full and final settlement”, which he surely knows, as attested to by our articles here but, much more importantly, through the ongoing struggles of a number of campaigning organisations.
The fact that this issue is not settled is evidenced through the Indian legal process itself. When, in June 2010, seven managers - all Indian nationals – who had worked at the Bhopal plant in 1984 were found guilty of death by neglect, Warren Anderson, American CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the leak, was named as an “absconder” by the court. Meanwhile, the Indian government is pursuing a $1 billion legal action against Dow.
Until Dow accepts its liabilities, it should be ostracised as a conspirator in death, illness and emiseration, not welcomed into the heart of what claims to be the world’s largest sporting event.
Moreover, the victimization of those affected by the gas leak not only endures, but continues to take on ever widening dimensions. Only last month, The Independent newspaper claimed to have possession of secret documents which showed that:
- drug trials funded by Western drugs companies at the Indian hospital set up for survivors of the Bhopal disaster violated international ethical standards
- some patients were unaware that they were taking part in a trial at all
- 14 patients died during the three trials examined by the reports
- in one trial, for an antibiotic, five out of seven patients died during the trial or soon after it finished
- there has been no adequate investigation into whether compensation was appropriate in any of the cases (Lakhani, 2011).
Rachna Dhingra of The International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal, urged the drugs companies involved to bear responsibility, called the conduct of the trials "disgusting and appalling", and demanded legal action against the firms involved. "The people of Bhopal have been doubly victimised by the unethical trials," she said (cited in Lakhani, 2011). Rachna Dhingra is surely correct on every count – albeit that ‘doubly’ victimised hardly begins to indicate the myriad of ways in which suffering can endure and continue to take on new forms, even 27 years after the world’s worst industrial killing.
Drop DOW Chemical as partners for the London 2012 Olympic Games!
Petition here at change.org
International Olympic Committee (2011) Olympic Charter, at http://www.olympic.org/Documents/olympic_charter_en.pdf
Gibson, O. (2011) Olympic organisers defend Dow sponsorship despite protests from MPs, The Guardian, 15 November.
Lakhani, N. (2011)
London 2012 Press Office (2011) It’s officially a ‘wrap’ – London 2012 confirms Dow Chemical Company to produce Olympic Stadium wrap. Media Release, 4 August.