Still waiting for justice over Bhopal
Wednesday 3rd November 2014
Thirty years on from the world’s worst industrial disaster the bereaved and sick have still yet to receive proper compensation, writes PAUL COLLINS
TODAY, 30 years on since the world’s worst industrial disaster, more babies will be born with lifelong health problems caused by the Union Carbide pesticide factory leak in Bhopal, capital of the Indian state Madhya Pradesh.
More than half a million people, mostly the poor, were exposed when the poisonous gas methyl isocyanate and other chemicals flowed into and around the shanty towns located near the US corporation’s plant.
Estimates suggest up to 25,000 deaths from gas-related diseases, with the Bhopal Medical Appeal citing up to 150,000 survivors now continuing to struggle with serious medical conditions.
These range from nerve damage, growth problems and gynecological disorders to respiratory issues, birth defects and higher rates of cancer and tuberculosis.
And though for decades the bereaved and sick have battled for adequate compensation, many have received little beyond £300, as Dow Chemical denies any responsibility, pointing to its purchase of Union Carbide after the disaster.
Union Carbide paid £300 million redress and Dow insists all liabilities were settled at that time – in stark contrast to the £17 billion compensation paid by BP after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Dow reported £5.3bn full-year earnings last January and, amid British government austerity measures, managed to find £7m as a 2012 Olympics sponsor for the wrap around the main London stadium.
Only months before the Games, the anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks revealed that Dow hired the US global intelligence company Stratfor to spy on Bhopal activists.
Eight Indians, all former Union Carbide plant staff, received two-year prison sentences for “death by negligence.”
But Warren Anderson, ex-chief executive of Union Carbide, repeatedly moved home to dodge legal writs, lived to a ripe old age in New York luxury, with his death at 92 disclosed last month from a Florida nursing home.
One activist, Rashida Bee, who lost six family members to cancer blamed on the gas, said: “He should have been jailed for the rest of his life, but didn’t spend a day behind bars.”
Campaigners extend beyond Dow and Union Carbide accusations over numerous Indian deaths linked to pesticide.
Another transnational, the agribusiness giant Monsanto, faces claims that the firm has contributed to more than 290,000 farmers’ suicides over the past 20 years.
The farmers drank chemicals after falling into debt, borrowing money under pressure to buy genetically modified seeds, which drove them to kill themselves when their crops failed.
Recent days have seen another disaster anniversary, two years on since 120 garment workers died, trapped in the worst Bangladeshi fire throughout the country’s history, at the nine-storey Tazreen factory.
Some workers lost their lives jumping to the ground in desperate attempts to escape the flames at the building near the capital Dhaka.
And critics point their fingers at yet another US culprit for the carnage, the world’s biggest retailer, Walmart, alleging that the company knew about unsafe Tazreen conditions, but stopped moves to improve them.
Despite the Dutch brand C&A agreeing with the IndustriALL global union federation to pay a significant amount towards full and fair compensation, Walmart remains among others that have failed to follow suit.
The British retailer, Edinburgh Woollen Mill – best known for its Peacocks and Jane Norman stores – has also lagged behind C&A in meeting its obligations to the Tazreen victims.
Walmart, along with Gap, continues to snub the legally binding Accord on Bangladesh Fire and Safety, joining instead the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which excludes unions and will not publish the results of factory audits.
Indeed, while the notorious anti-union monolith raked in huge profits on Black Friday, hundreds of Walmart employees’ strikes took place across the US, in protest at low pay and bad conditions.
Public Eye, a campaign begun by the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos in Switzerland, has named Dow and Walmart for a potential shame award.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal nominated Dow and the UNI Global union federation proposed Walmart for the lifetime award that will mark 15 years since the campaign announced its first corporate irresponsibility dishonour.
In 2005 Dow received its human rights award for refusal to accept any responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe and Walmart was given the labour counterpart for working conditions at its suppliers.
Last year War on Want nominated G4S for a Public Eye award over its supplying equipment and services for use at Israeli checkpoints, settlements and jails, and saw the security corporation ranked among the worst firms on the planet.
Other nominees this year include Goldman Sachs for denying any wrongdoing over the global economic crash, Chevron for threatening people’s struggles and denying victims’ rights to remedies, Glencore for human rights and environmental abuse and Gazprom for Arctic misadventures affecting the world.
People can vote for one of the firms until January 22 at publiceye.ch/voting
Paul Collins is media officer for anti-poverty charity War on Want.
HUNDREDS of survivors of the Bhopal gas leak and their supporters took to the streets of the Indian city today to mark the 30th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial disaster. The protesters demanded harsher punishments for those responsible and suitable compensation for the victims of the tragedy: here.