Bearing Dow`s burden
Press release hoax . The Bhopal Gas Disaster: Targeting Dow Chemical . USA
Negligence, not sabotage, according to a New Scientist report, caused the 1984 Bhopal disaster, when toxic gases leaked out of a Union Carbide pesticide plant, killing about 5,000 people. Another 15,000 people have died over the years due to its after effects, mostly from chemicals released into the groundwater. The report is based on documents recently released by the Union Carbide following a court order over a class action suit by Bhopal survivors. The Union Carbide had so far claimed the accident was caused by sabotage.
Meanwhile, in a peculiar turn of events, it has been reported that a press release doing the rounds in the media in the first week of December saying that Dow Chemical, which has now taken over Union Carbide, regretted what happened at Bhopal but was unable and not willing to do anything about it because of its "responsibility to shareholders", has turned out to be a hoax.
The fake press release was the handiwork of a group called the Yes Men, who are known for their anti-business and anti-government stance. In 2000, the Yes Men had gained attention with a bogus World Trade Organisation (WTO) site called gatt.org.
The press release had quoted Dow President and CEO Michael D. Parker as saying, "We are being portrayed as a heartless giant which doesn't care about the 20,000 lives lost due to Bhopal over the years. But this just isn't true. Many individuals within Dow feel tremendous sorrow about the Bhopal disaster, and many individuals within Dow would like the corporation to admit its responsibility, so that the public can then decide on the best course of action, as is appropriate in any democracy."
It went on quoting Parker as saying, "Unfortunately, we have responsibilities to our shareholders and our industry colleagues that make action on Bhopal impossible. And being clear about this has been a very big step."
Union Carbide and Dow have consistently had to deny direct responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. The Union Carbide had compensated victims' families with $300 to $500 per victim.
The hoax press release also quoted Dow spokesperson Bob Questra as saying, "We understand the anger and hurt, but Dow does not and cannot acknowledge responsibility. If we did, not only would we be required to expend many billions of dollars on cleanup and compensation - much worse, the public could then point to Dow as a precedent in other big cases. 'They took responsibility; why can't you?' Amoco, BP, Shell, and Exxon all have ongoing problems that would just get much worse. We are unable to set this precedent for ourselves and the industry, much as we would like to see the issue resolved in a humane and satisfying way."
The fake press release went on to say that shareholders had received Dow's new-found clarity on the matter with enthusiasm.
Needless to say, Dow has not responded very enthusiastically to this sharing of their burden.