Dow, Olympics and Bhopal: An Open Debate

Written by  //  March 13, 2012  //  National Politics  //  26 Comments

Dow Chemicals’ sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee and specifically their offer to construct the £7 million wrap around the Olympic Stadium in London has understandably brought the London Olympics 2012 a considerable degree of disrepute. Dow is part legal successor of Union Carbide, whose Indian subsidiary Union Carbide (India) was responsible for India’s worst chemical disaster, the Bhopal gas tragedy. Official figures suggest 3,787 people have been killed since that fateful night of December 1984 as a result of the gas leak and thousands more injured, with several babies who continue to be born with terrible physical deformities owing to the contamination of the drinking water grid in Bhopal.

To allow such a corporation to partner with the Olympics, a quadrennial celebration of humanity and universal brotherhood is to my mind an obvious travesty. But Dow, the International Olympic Committee and the British Government have categorically ruled out any possibility of rescinding their sponsorship contract despite representations by the Government of India to do so, their argument based on the premise that legally there is no responsibility that Dow owes to the victims of the Bhopal tragedy given that it was not the owner of Union Carbide at the time of the accident as well as because liability if any, is to be borne by the Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide which was wholly acquired by Eveready Industries. As far as the moral responsibility of compensating the victims is concerned, Dow has maintained a stoic silence.

I’d like to use this forum to kick-start a debate that avoids the understandable yet ultimately unhelpful rhetoric that surrounds the issue of Dow’s sponsorship of the Games. Specifically, your inputs on the twin issues of the legal responsibility of a successor multi-national company for the liabilities of its predecessor as well as your thoughts on the appropriateness of the Olympics partnering with such a corporation would be most appreciated. This may involve both questions of legal, as well as crucially questions of moral responsibility. Please use the comments section below to let everyone know what you think. If you feel you have a more substantial contribution, send in a piece to criticaltwenties@gmail.com and we will be happy to publish it.

In order to pique your interest regarding this issue, lest you believe it is an open-and-shut case or not sufficiently important see:

 1. Indra Sinha, “We Will Carry the Torch of Bhopal to London’s Olympic Games” The Guardian, 2 March 2012 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/02/torch-bhopal-london-olympics-dow-chemical)

 2. David Cameron’s response to Karan Thapar defending the British decision to retain Dow and coming out strongly against protests, Devil’s Advocate, 11 March 2012

 (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/dow-will-sponsor-london-olympics-british-pm/238131-2.html)

Sinha’s piece is a passionate one; Cameron’s response is equally passionate, candid and shocking in equal measure- both together may help make up your mind regarding where you stand on this issue.

I look forward to hearing from your thoughts on this issue of significant national importance. A reasoned discussion of the issues raised will in its own way draw attention to the perpetuating shame that is the treatment of the victims of Bhopal and hopefully trigger its long overdue resolution at a time when the world has a renewed interest in the incident. Depending on the responses, it will also feed into the worldwide campaign against Dow’s sponsorship of the Games (http://www.change.org/petitions/drop-dow-chemical-as-partners-for-the-london-2012-olympic-games-bhopal)

We owe it to the people of Bhopal affected by this tragedy to make the best and most reasoned case for compensation from Dow that will fully and finally settle this unending saga of untold human suffering.

Over to you.

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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26 Comments on "Dow, Olympics and Bhopal: An Open Debate"

  1. Devottam Sengupta March 14, 2012 at 12:19 am ·

    It actually is rather straightforward. If you buy a second-hand car, would you bear the moral responsibility of compensating the victims of a hit and run case when the car was driven by its previous owner? If you say you don’t, and can find legal principles to back your case, you really can’t deny the same recourse to Dow.

    Far more importantly, this entire incident is yet another empty protest on the part of our rudderless government, which is far happier drawing attention away from its shambolic handling of the litigation against UCC and the compensation process since. We should recognise that (a) Dow is not going to apologise for something that it was not responsible for, and (b) boycotting the games will only hurt Indian athletes, who have been working hard for four years to qualify for the Olympics.

    And coming back to legal principles – under the jurisprudence regarding lifting of corporate veils, I am unaware of any principle which states that a parent entity becomes the successor of the liabilities of a subsidiary. Lifting of the corporate veil is granted only in respect of attaching liability to the controlling heart and mind of a subsidiary, at the time of occurrence of an incident. To try and attach liability to Dow in this particular instance is akin to the accident victims in my first example armtwisting you to cough up for their loss, simply because you’re richer. Worse still, the armtwisting is taking place decades too late.

  2. prashant March 14, 2012 at 4:15 am ·

    I don’t agree with the activists. I don’t think Dow has any liability for UCC’s sins especially when it bought the company 15 years after the tragedy and 10 years after the Supreme Court sealed a negotiated settlement between India and UCC for the tragedy in Bhopal. If anything the activist community should be attacking the government for failing to clean up the mess in Bhopal and for agreeing to a weak settlement deal with the UCC. The govt. has a duty to maintain the quality of environment, especially when things turn hazardous. I just don’t understand why the activist community does not do more to pile up pressure on the Govt. to clean up the ground-water in Bhopal – after all the govt. does hold all natural resources in public trust and it is up to them to clean up the mess. The need of the hour is to make the place safe and not just get coverage in the media.

  3. Alok March 14, 2012 at 5:14 am ·

    The Government of India’s position on this has been duplicitous and it is unfortunate that the Bhopal victims movement has been so obsessed with Dow and UCC that it has let the government off the hook.

    I’ve written about this earlier in another blog.

    http://churumuri.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/how-the-rajiv-government-screwed-up-on-bhopal/

    http://churumuri.wordpress.com/2007/12/05/and-how-the-legal-system-screwed-up-on-bhopal/

    But to summarize from those posts.

    Let’s not forget the undeniable facts:

    1. The Central Government was a shareholder in UCIL, along with UCC. Whatever liability attaches to UCC, (and hence, Dow) also attaches the Government.

    2. Despite being one of the parties causing damage, the Union of India decided to be the sole representative of all the victims in any and every court of law against UCC.

    3. No effort was made to scientifically and rationally collect details of victims. Here, the State Government also played a big role in artificially reducing the numbers of fatalities. When a claim was finally presented in the appropriate courts, three years had passed and valuable evidence was lost or destroyed.

    4. The Union of India was party to the settlement arrived at under the aegis of the Supreme Court of India. The Government knew it could not plump UCC for more than a billion dollars because of its own incompetence in not carefully collating and presenting the evidence. The legal case against UCC was damaged thanks to the ineptitude and negligence of the Union Government. Union of India was forced to settle for the lower sum because it knew that it wasn’t going to get anything more out of UCC.

    5. Because it settled for a lower sum, the burden fell on the Central Government to make up for the difference. This is part of the terms of the settlement and it is appalling that the Central Government is now trying to wheedle its way out of this by bringing Dow et al into the picture.

    In fact, the Government’s campaign against Dow in the Olympics saga is purely exploitative and manipulative hoping to please a domestic constituency through sheer mendacity.

  4. passerbyontheriverkwai March 14, 2012 at 7:10 am ·

    I agree with Sengupta mostly — but I personally don’t think the quagmire Dow finds itself in can be simply equated to the act of buying a dodgy second hand car. Though Dow can legally wash its hands off the whole incident given that UCC settled to the inflation adjusted tune of about INR 5400 crores, Dow cannot and will not ignore the massive market potential offered by India to its specialty product portfolio. The real cost of doing business in India is extremely complex — Dow will have to bottle it and eventually settle once again, as it is currently not allowed to “legally” sell product in India. Dow has anyways settled lawsuits in the U.S involving asbestosis and union carbide, though it had nothing to do with UCC at the time of the lawsuits.

  5. Anisha March 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm ·

    Arghya, I agree with you on this issue. I’m not a lawyer, but the comparison of Dow’s connection with the Bhopal tragedy to a car driver’s connection with a crash that his or her used car may have been previously involved in is mystifying. When a corporation is traded, its liabilities are traded, because these liabilities are intrinsic to the corporation; surely the parallel doesn’t hold for a car? As has been pointed out in some detail in the linked article “The Legal Liability of Dow: A Response”, the question of where the liability for the Bhopal tragedy ultimately resides is not as obvious as some posters have suggested.

    The bigger problem, of course, is that the Government has already reached a settlement with UCC. No doubt, it will be extremely difficult to now show that the entire case needs to be reopened but the fact remains that the Government today believes it can get a decision in its favour. I see absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t put its money where its mouth is and vilify the company against which it is seeking remedy.

    Of course, Alok (and the others) are absolutely right in pointing out the government’s culpability in this whole tragedy, particularly if stories of corruption are to be believed. In passing, I do wonder if a BJP government would be able to argue a better case today.

    Even so, given the current situation where a civil curative petition is currently pending, the Indian Government should stand by its position at home and refuse to participate in an event that is sponsored by a company that may have failed to pay adequate compensation for one of the worst industrial tragedies the world has ever seen.

    Personally, what infuriates me the most is that the reputational damage for a big company like Dow from being associated with a Bhopal is barely a tiny fraction of what it would have been if the disaster had occurred in Boston. In that scenario, one could safely assume that Dow either would have stayed well clear of UCC, or would have ensured that it rebuilds the company’s brand by ensuring the victims get some semblance of a fair deal.

  6. Ramya March 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm ·

    Dev, just on your point – When Dow bought Union Carbide, it was presumably well aware of the Bhopal disaster. UCC paid out a settlement (adequate or otherwise), lost goodwill, and has had its name associated with one of the largest industrial disasters of all times and the messy litigation that followed. Obviously, Dow would have factored these points into the price it was willing to pay for UCC at the time of purchase. Simply from a commercial standpoint, Dow has internalised the “costs” of the Bhopal disaster in the price it paid for UCC. It cannot then turn around and say it has no need to answer for the mistakes of its predecessor. I would think Dow has, in fact, bought not just the car, but also the liability incurred by the driver in the hit and run accident.

    Of course, one could argue UCC’s legal liability was determined at the point when it entered into a settlement with GoI, and it was this liability alone which was passed on to Dow. I am not sure I can make a coherent legal or even moral argument to say Dow’s hands remain so tainted by the actions of its predecessor company’s Indian subsidiary that we should not let it ever sponsor any international sports event, or one of the magnitude and significance of the Olympics.

    I cannot help but feel instinctively repelled by the fact, even if I cannot justify the “feeling” logically. And given I cannot make a logical argument, I don’t think we should be preventing sportspersons who have prepared for years from seeing the culmination of their dreams just because it “smells bad”.

  7. Subramanian Natarajan March 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm ·

    a. Dow buying UCC

    Surely buying a company is different from the assets of a company. The latter is similar to buying a car. As I understand it DOW bought not the assets of UCC in a fire sale but the company as a going concern in a takeover transaction. This means that they also become successor to any liabilities. Imagine if this were not the case then all any company accused of wrongdoing needs to do is set up another company and effect a transfer to the new entity – clearly not a good solution if you want to have any concept of corporate responsibility.

    ii. the Price DOW paid for UCC

    Presumably the due diligence that Dow did before buying UCC would have put a value on the “potential Bhopal liabilities” and clearly this value was deemed to be sufficiently small compared to the value of the assets of UCC to justify the investment in UCC.

    iii. The value of “potential Bhopal liabilities”

    This brings us to the point of why these “potential Bhopal liabilities” was considered to be so low by Dow. This is partly because of a monumental blunder by the Indian government in entering into the settlement agreement. But even from the point of the view of layest of lay persons there is more than enough legal grounds to open up that settlement agreement and ask for more compensation.

    This means that DOW’s estimation of the “potential” nature of the liabilities was not accurate. Should we feel sorry that they got it wrong? NO.

    iv. The Indian Government

    The indian government has the role of an accessory to all the injustice around Bhopal and does not have any right to be sounding morally righteous in any forum.

    v. The Olympics

    It seems to be an altogether different type of random injustice to inflict on the athletes to ruin their preparations by boycotting the event they have prepared for hard for.

    vi. The Solution – in the Olympics

    Wearing black bands by all Indian athletes to protest against Dow and the Indian government. Only symbolic but ought to get the message across especially to the IOC given that sponsorship of an event is not a right and should be based on reputational concerns.

    vii. The Solution for Bhopal victims

    Sue the hell out of BOTH the Indian Government and DOW in every conceivable local/national/international judicial forum.

  8. Arghya March 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm ·

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I think we have a fair degree of consensus that trying to get Dow to compensate for the consequences of Bhopal should not in any way allow the Indian government to assume a moral high ground. They were and continue to be primarily responsible and I think no one is forgetting that.

    As far as the legal liability issues are concerned, Dev, Reddy, as Subra, Ramya and Anisha point out surely there is some case for legal liability on Dow given that they’ve acquired all assets and liabilities of UCC? And as Prof. Umakanth’s article points out perceptively, the fact that there is a mismatch between the legal issue and the moral issue should perhaps force us to revisit the legal issue of when the veil ought to be lifted rather than use it as a blanket argument to even defeat moral claims which may arise. Don’t you think?

    Finally a point that you raise Subra, the injustice meted out to athletes who have been training for the Olympics if we don’t go- what standard should we judge the relative injustices by? I think any absolutist standard will be quite flawed since what is just for one will necessarily be unjust for another (the victims, to a certain degree). So perhaps it would have to be a utilitarian calculus that must be adopted?

    I also think finally it boils down to the issue that the Olympics presents a great opportunity to pressurise Dow into paying up. As Anisha says, if this disaster wasn’t in Bhopal but Boston the situation would have been different. In fact Dow settled UCC’s asbestos suits in Texas with a huge payout while not doing the same for Bhopal. So this is a great opportunity to use the IOC, the British government and the Indian government to make DOW pay up. I scarcely believe such an opportunity would arise again in the near future.

  9. Suhrith March 16, 2012 at 2:02 am ·

    Just on the final point, I agree with Subra in that boycotting the Olympics may not be the ideal response. As you say, Arghya, the response has to be based out of a utilitarian calculus, but if India were to not participate in the Olympics it may be an issue of significance, perhaps, in the lead-up to the event, and may bring some attention, but by wearing black armbands, and being more overt in our protest, I think the issue could receive more international attention. The Black Power Salute at Mexico ’68 remains one of the most significant political statements, and I think India should aim at something similar. One country boycotting an event is news, but at a practical level, I think a more significant protest whilst participating in the event may work better, especially as you rightly point out, this may be the last opportunity to get Dow to pay up.

  10. Agrima March 16, 2012 at 3:34 am ·

    My entry point into this debate is the ‘graceful’ settlement by Dow of UCC’s asbestos suits in Texas dating back to 1972 (if not 1984). I believe the US Supreme Court held that the successor is responsible for pre-acquisition criminal liabilities of the predecessor. Even though Dow continues to maintain otherwise, Dow undoubtedly bought the liabilities of UCC, a fact evidenced in Dow’s post-acquisition annual report submitted to the Securities Exchange Commission! Evidently, Dow is legally responsible for its subsidiary’s “toxic legacy” in Bhopal (not in the least because it is richer or being arm-twisted into coughing up compensation).

    A fair degree of consensus amongst us on the ‘unholy’ hypocrisy of the Indian Government requires an uproarious enunciation and articulation; to be channeled into an appeal to the government of Madhya Pradesh to 1) expedite remediation activities at the plant site, 2) lead efforts to curb ongoing contamination and 3) offer hassle-free medical treatment to the victims. The guilty receiver of the short-sighted 1989 settlement and equally culpable, our Union Government must vigorously mount pressure on the British Government in demanding to boot out Dow as one of the Olympics sponsor. Meanwhile, David Cameron could congratulate Meredith Alexander, one of the seven 2012 Olympics ‘ethics’ commissioners, who quit her job in protest of Dow’s ‘unethical’ inclusion as a sponsor.

    I wholeheartedly agree that this is a rare opportunity, to internationally shame Dow. However, we must also transcend the language of compensation to morally whip the Indian Government at home. And most importantly, irrespective of the standard used to measure the relative injustices, our athletes must partake in the Olympics. A boycott may sound reasonable in the face of the IOC’s defense of Dow but think again– our call to boycott will victimise a great many Indian sportsperson. Let them represent India and the victims of Bhopal with black arm bands, echoing our protest internationally in the Olympics arena.

    Thanks, Arghya, for initiating this debate.

  11. Shivprasad March 16, 2012 at 11:34 am ·

    Reflecting on whether Indian athletes should keep away from the Olympics, Arghya argues:

    ‘I think any absolutist standard will be quite flawed since what is just for one will necessarily be unjust for another (the victims, to a certain degree). So perhaps it would have to be a utilitarian calculus that must be adopted?’

    And the Utilitarian calculus yields the result that the athletes should miss the Olympics. Having denounced an ‘absolutist’ standard Arghya goes on to embrace one himself. But my gripe here is not about that inconsistency. It is about the very idea of using a utilitarian calculus to address moral issues like these. I am not surprised that his utilitarian calculus yields the result he claims it does; in fact it could have yielded any result that he would have intuited BEFORE bringing the calculus into play. One of the many failings of the Utilitarian Calculus is that it will yield you any result you want it to , depending on how you load the dice. When you portray it as athletes playing vs people suffering- you know which side will come out winning. The question is whether you can take anyone’s (innocent party’s) legitimate interests and rights and place them in the utilitarian calculus when they weren’t involved in the matter in question in the first place? Rights and interests of different people cannot be traded in such a manner. If I could (just assume I could ) assure you that killing one toddler could lead to Dow compensating all these victims your calculus would require that the innocent be killed. But intuitively none of us would endorse this as an option.

    We can all agree that India must exert pressure on the British Government and Dow. IF the Government is really serious about achieving this, there are many other ways of going about doing so. But none of them can involve trampling on an innocent person’s legitimate expectations and rights. For instance you will agree the Government of India cannot say- we will not let Rhodes Scholars take up their place in Oxford unless the British Government dumps Dow. The utilitarian calculus may have led you to believe otherwise ( if you loaded it the way you loaded the players vs people question). Sadly, I don’t think the Union of India is serious about this matter at all.

    I think the kind of option Suhrith suggests is the only sensible one for the Indian athletes and will attract attention to the issue. Maybe Indians should walk with ‘Boycott Dow’ Flags or Black flags rather than the Indian tricolour during the opening/closing ceremony. When a billion people watch that live it will leave a far messier egg on the IOCs face than Indian athletes staying away from the event.

  12. Arghya March 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm ·

    Shiv, your comment, while eloquent as ever, misses the point entirely. While I do certainly say a utilitarian calculus must be adopted, the result of this process being that India boycotts the Olympics is purely a figment of your imagination. In fact, I re-read my comment to make sure I didn’t suggest anything of this nature.
    Be that as it may, my gripe with your gripe against the utilitarian calculus is that you seem to assume that it will lead to absolutist results (which you confuse with adopting an absolutist standard, which is completely different). I don’t think a utilitarian calculus gives you the answers that you want to get and is merely an euphemism for naked intuitionism. In fact, I’m happy to make the stronger claim that it is a perfectly fair way in which to decide questions of justice, provided it is subject to certain qualifications which are now considered entrenched in utilitarianism itself.
    Let’s take the an example that you take: Rhodes Scholars not being able to take their place in Oxford unless Britain drops Dow. Apart from that being quite a silly negotiating tactic for any government to use (The British government could well say: ok, it really doesn’t matter, give their places to five Brits instead), it is fallacious for you to assume that the utilitarian calculus will always lead to the result that the Rhodes scholars be dumped. A utilitarian analysis will most certainly not generate fixed results as you assume. One will have to look at the rights that are being affected, the reasons for the limitations affecting the rights and the nexus between the limitations imposed and the objective sought to be achieved. Considering this it would be more likely that the limitation on the legitimate expectation of Rhodes Scholars to be able to get their place in Oxford will not be overridden by the government’s limitation because the limitation is too remote from the possibility of the Bhopal gas victims being compensated by Dow. In response to this you may of course say that this is the intuitive result. It may be in this case, but it is not necessary that it is. If the British Government had earlier made representations that the Empire will fall apart if 5 Rhodes Scholars were not allowed to take their place in Oxford then perhaps not letting them go would be a justified and proportionate response. So it is a balancing act that is entirely contingent on the facts and circumstances of the case and does not lead to fixed, intuitionist answers as you suggest.
    How else do you come to the conclusion which you do that Indians should walk with black flags? Maybe it’s your intuition but mine is to say that Indians should not go to the Games at all. Personal intuition cannot be an objective way of reaching an answer to a question involving competing rights. The utilitarian calculus allows you the possibility of reaching that answer and does not in any way necessarily lead to an absolute result.
    I am happy that we agree regarding what should happen (something on the lines of walking with Boycott Dow flags), though I think what you have in support of this view is an opinion that you are perfectly entitled to have but can scarcely convince anyone else unless they share the same opinion, whereas what I modestly have to offer is an argument, with the potential to convince detractors.
    Of course you are more than entitled to disagree, and I shall be more than happy to continue this rather fascinating debate.

  13. Simon Z. Rajan March 19, 2012 at 6:20 am ·

    I shall refrain from entering into an academic discussion on the subject-unprepared, Arghya would probably trounce me with one hand behind his back! However I believe the crux of the issue is that compensation awarded was a pittance. Then again, human life in India has litle or no value.

  14. Arghya March 20, 2012 at 7:39 am ·

    Some Olympians make a well-researched case for the shady nature of several of IOC’s sponsors and specifically why Dow Chemicals should not be associated with the Olympics due to Bhopal and a host of other reasons:
    http://athletesagainstdowchemical.wordpress.com/dow-chemical-olympic-sponsor/

  15. Indra Sinha March 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm ·

    As you have quoted my Guardian article in your introduction to this discussion, perhaps I may be permitted a word. Ultimately, the dispute will have to be resolved not by rhetoric and high emotion but in a court of law.

    The legal points which David Cameron, Mayor Johnson, Lord Coe, LOCOG and Dow’s PR people continually ignore are these:

    1. You can’t kill thousands of people and then shrug off your liabilities with a change of name. The liability still exists. The question is, who has inherited it? As a previous commenter said, Dow acquired not just UCC’s assets, but its entire shareholding. It was basically a share swap. UCC shareholders became Dow shareholders and Dow shareholders became UCC shareholders. UCC on paper became a Dow subsidiary but the two companies’ operations and financial systems were combined, to the extent that Dow was unable to file separate accounts for its UCC business (as normally required by the SEC) and had to explain that there was no way to separate the operations and finances of Dow and UCC. In fine, Dow is UCC and UCC is Dow. As the Indian Ministry of Law has advised the Prime Minister, if UCC has any liabilities, Dow would inherit them, regardless of the manner in which the merger was structured.

    Corollary: This renders irrelevant the endlessly repeated statements by Dow, LOCOG, Coe and Cameron that Dow never owned, operated or managed the Bhopal factory. It didn’t have to. The statement is a soundbyte that sounds reasonable, but is legally meaningless. It is designed to deflect attention away from the threat to Dow. The real question is, what if any are UCC’s liabilities?

    2. Here we encounter the second line of Dow’s spin. Didn’t Union Carbide settle with the Indian government fully and finally? Answer: no.

    The settlement covers civil liabilities but not criminal liabilities. Union Carbide Corporation faces criminal charges of homicide and since 1992 has been ignoring the Indian court’s summons, rendering it a fugitive from justice in India, a criminal corporation. This is why its products are not allowed to be sold in India. (Dow conspired with Carbide before and after the merger to flout the ban, using a shell company set up in Singapore for this express purpose.) The criminal case against UCC remains live. If UCC is a separate legal entity, Dow which appoints every director to its board and controls every cent of its finances, is in the position of sheltering a fugitive, if they are the same, then Dow itself will have to appear and there is indeed a move to force Dow to appear in place of UCC. If the corporation (whichever hat it is wearing) comes to court, it would be confronted with its own documents that show why and exactly how it exercised control over the Bhopal plant, presided over a programme of draconian cost-cutting and ignored repeated warnings from its workers that the plant was unsafe. See my Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/04/bhopal-25-years-indra-sinha
    If found guilty it could face a fine with no specified upper limit. Having no separate finances, Dow would have to pick up the bill, but doubtless a way would be found to declare UCC bankrupt and leave the Bhopalis with a pyrrhic victory.

    On top of this is the entirely separate issue of toxic contamination which is causing the spate of birth defects and illness. This was not covered by the settlement and could be the subject of fresh civil and criminal cases against the company. Again, the company’s own documents show that its American design engineers clearly and loudly warned that the proposed waste disposal system would create a health disaster by poisoning the ground-water. The warning was ignored by US bosses and the second Bhopal disaster duly came to pass.

    These things, which were once hidden, are now coming to light, and the public which was once completely in the dark about the complications of Bhopal, is beginning to get the picture. Legally, Dow is on shaky ground – if activists truly get their act together a huge pit could open under its feet. This explains why – as revealed recently by Wikileaks, Dow has for years been spying on Bhopal supporters, hiring a private intelligence agency to keep them under surveillance.

    Ironically, the ongoing cost of lawyers, lobbyists, spooks and spies, pr companies, advertising campaigns plus expensive sponsorships of environmental and sporting events is almost certainly greater than the cost of cleaning up the contaminated soil and water and fairly compensating those who have been poisoned and born damaged.

    If Dow really wants to improve its image and win genuine respect in the world, the quickest most effective thing it could do would be to discharge its inherited responsibilities for Bhopal.

  16. Indra Sinha March 22, 2012 at 11:17 pm ·

    One final thing. On the shameful record of successive Indian governments at the centre and at state level, you are right that they should not be allowed to assume the moral high ground. There is evidence enough that from the beginning, from long before the disaster, that Indian politicians were colluding with the company. They still are. Union Carbide India Limited in addition to manufacturing pesticides was a sinecure for politically connected individuals and conflicts of interest were inevitable and as inevitably ignored. How else could a govenrment official with a significant shareholding in the Bhopal subsidiary be permitted to issue medical diktats that denied thousands of victims a particular antidote because its success would prove they had suffered systemic damage with huge legal consequences for the corporation? That was right at the beginning. Nearly three decades of official neglect, delay, denial, and grudging penny-pinching have characterised the response of Indian politicians. They had a duty of care which they derogated and they failed their own people, turning a blind eye to their suffering, not caring whether they lived or died.

    The real truth is that the politicians and the company were always on the same side. Despite posturing about the Olympics, of course the Indian government has done nothing effective and unfairly offloaded this huge moral decision onto the athletes. Public anger must be placated, but the all important dollar flow must not be threatened.

    Dow meanwhile says that it is “beyond belief” that the victims should seek to hold it responsible. What is really beyond belief is what has happened to the victims. The story of their suffering is so incredible, so outrageous and sounbelievable that no Hollywood screenwriter, however desperate, could have dreamed it up. Imagine, a rich, powerful multinational corporation unleashes the world’s worst ever industrial disaster on poor and helpless people; scenes of apocalyptic terror are followed by a health holocaust; a thirty year struggle for survival and justice against overwhelming odds.

    For three decades, some of the poorest people on earth, sick, living on the edge of starvation, without funds, friends or political influence, have been fighting literally for their lives against one of the world’s richest corporations, backed by the governments, military, and economic elites of two of the world’s most powerful nations. The corporation has it all – wealth, power, political influence, top American and Indian lawyers, PR companies, the ear of presidents, prime ministers and legislators, the power to twist arms, bend policy to their will, and manipulate the courts and laws of two countries to evade justice in either.

    The ‘nothing people’ have literally nothing. Their efforts to obtain medical help and justice have been opposed and obstructed in every possible way by the corporation that killed their families and friends, ruined their lives and then poisoned their water. Naively trusting that the Indian government would come to their rescue they were abandoned, sold down the river by politicians and courts, blackmailed by bureaucrats, cheated by quacks, then beaten up and jailed for daring to protest. It’s David against an army of Goliaths.

    Now even the prestigious Olympic games, backed by the Britiah government have sided with the corporation against the victims. Is there anything on earth that corporate money can’t buy its way into, or out of?

    The survivors, who had zero money, were thrown back on their own resources and discovered that their slums were full of talent. Having nothing else they had to use their wits. From this poorest of communities came a flowering of science, art and political intelligence. They taught themselves medicine, environmental science, law and politics. They learned to do first-class forensic investigations, their detective work has the dramatic edge of an international thriller.

    They appealed for friends and found they were not alone. They opened their own free award-winning clinics and brought healing to thousands whose lives had been hell. What they have learned about treating chemically induced illness they are sharing freely with other impacted groups around the world. Treated abominably themselves they practised kindness and compassion and discovered that the most powerful medicine is love.

    No one knows how this story will end, but it won’t be over until we enter and become part of it.

  17. Arghya March 23, 2012 at 10:17 am ·

    Dear Mr. Sinha,

    Thank you very much for your comment. Given your long-standing support to the cause of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy and your deep understanding of the issue, I especially appreciate your inputs to this debate.

    The only question I had was with regard to what the course of action should be for the Indian Government now, with regard to Dow Chemicals and the Olympics sponsorship. What do you think would be the most effective way of ensuring that Dow pays up? Do you really think, as you suggest in your first paragraph that the final decision will be by a court of law? Or can the Olympics sponsorship issue be used to pre-empt such a decision, especially given the checkered history of the Indian judiciary, and most shockingly the Supreme Court, with regard to both the compensation package and the criminal liability of the directors of Union Carbide India? As Umakanth, a noted legal academic has pointed out here: (http://www.criticaltwenties.in/corporatelawandbusiness/the-legal-liability-of-dow-a-response) it is unfortunate that the legal regime has not moved on satisfactorily to bring within its ambit a peculiar case such as Dow. Given that, and the fact that perhaps changes to the legal regime may be necessary to tackle such an issue legally and ensure justice for the victims, (which would mean that the changes would ordinarily apply prospectively rather than to Bhopal victims), can the court of law really provide a satisfactory solution?

  18. aandthirtyeights March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm ·

    Does utilitarianism have to be calculus? Can’t we stick to algebra?

  19. Gharam May 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm ·

    A 30% drop (or more) is typical in rsnseeiocs.Well. that’s just plain wrong. Next time, before you post, spend 30 seconds on google and find the actual facts. Took me all of two searches. and I even handicapped myself by using Live!.Tempting though it may be to give into the gloom, January isn’t a foolproof predictor of things to come. The five worst January swoons since 1926 led to an average gain of 12.3% over the following 12 months and 26% over the next 24 months. Dates Change in Dow during recession: Change in Dow one year after: CommentsAugust 1929 to March 1933 -84.20% 81.07% In the depths of the Depression in the winter of 1933 folks had a hard time believing that spring, and a recovering economy, were around the corner.May 1937 toJune 1938 -23.18 -2.43 In the midst of this recession the stock exchange floor on Wall Street was still busy, with traders in the pits and telephone men on the right, receiving orders to buy and sell. February 1945 to October 1945 21.33% -9.35% The bombing of Hiroshima presaged the end of World War II but the U.S. economy was mired in recession even as the stock market continued to rise.November 1948 to October 1949 -0.12% 18.71% Staggered by the death of Roosevelt, the country welcomes President Harry S. Truman at his inauguration in the midst of another recession.July 1953 toMay 1954 21.57% 29.73% Amidst the international strife and domestic stresses of the early 1950s, the country continued to have confidence in progress-both in the economy and society. Here, Nathaniel Steward, 17, recites his lesson at the Saint-Dominique school, in Washington in 1954 after the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed segregation in state schools.August 1957 to April 1958 -9.95% 36.83% The shock of the Sputnik launch, the world’s first man-made satellite, in October 1957 drove the U.S. out of its economic doldrums as it raced to compete around the world and in space.April 1960 to February 1961 7.48% 6.94% The promise of a new president seemed to lift the economy out of recession.December 1969 to November 1970 -1.36% 4.69% While the U.S. ecoonomy had heartburn, China was recovering from the dislocations of the Cultural Revolution which was directed against those party leaders in authority taking the capitalist road. November 1973 to March 1975 -19.04% 30.11% The economy shrank under the shadow of Watergate and picked up quickly after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.January 1980 to July 1980 11.51% 1.92% Reagan’s magical Morning in America theme helped keep markets moving up even though the nation was in recession.July 1981 to November 1982 7.40% 22.78% War in Lebanon prompted the U.S. to send peacekeeping troops, but the market continued to climb even though many sectors of the economy were hit hard by recession.July 1990 to March 1991 1.15% 11.04% Despite the quick victory in the first Gulf War the lagging economy continued to be on people’s minds-contributing heavily to Bill Clinton’s presidential victory.March 2001 to November 2001 -5.73% -9.70% In an effort to bring the country out of recession, the U.S. government sent out 92 million tax rebate checks over 10 weeks as part of the Bush recovery plan. A year after the economy had begun to recover as markets continued in decline.Source: BusinessWeek Rate this comment: 0 0

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