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Honest to goodness, I don’t know why we yawn at the word “economics” when there are stories like this. Beats the pants off any Britney Spears blah-blah-blah.

(for some of you this is old news. sorry – new to me. and read on; there may be some new details here).

Dec. 3, 1984, just past midnight. Bhopal, India.

Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, began leaking 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate (a chemical used in rubber). None of the six safety systems designed to contain such a leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city of Bhopal. Worse, the plant had been built close to a dense population instead of the other side of town.

The gas cloud, composed mainly of materials more dense than the surrounding air, stayed close to the ground and spread outwards through the surrounding community. The initial effects of gas exposure were coughing, vomiting, severe eye irritation and a feeling of suffocation. People awoken by these symptoms fled away from the plant. Those who ran inhaled more than those who had a vehicle. Due to their height, children and other people of lower stature inhaled relatively higher concentrations. Many people were trampled trying to escape.

Thousands of people had succumbed to gas exposure by the morning hours. There were mass funerals and mass cremations (approx 8000) as well as some bodies being disposed of in the Narmada river. 170,000 people were treated at hospitals and temporary dispensaries. 2,000 buffaloes, goats, and other animals had to be collected and buried. Within a few days, leaves on trees went yellow and fell off. Supplies including food became scarce due to safety fears by the suppliers. Fishing was prohibited as well which caused further supply shortages. (source: bhopal.org)

In short: a freaking industrial disaster of biblical proportions.

Dec. 7, 1984
Indian police arrest CEO Warren Andersen, and release him on bail. He hightails it back to the good old USA.

Dec. 14, 1984
CEO Warren Anderson promises US Congress that it won’t happen again.

Spring 1985
India passes the “Bhopal Gas Leak Act” and acts as the legal representative of the victims.

1986
CEO Warren Andersen retires, and lays low.

1989
Out-of-court settlement kinda/sorta reached – Union Carbide to pay $470 million in damages. I say kinda/sorta because while the Indian Gov’t was cool with this, the victims weren’t (keep reading) – it worked out to about $2200 per dead person.  What do you think:  if a US corporation had done this in the western world, would they get away with $2200 per dead person?

1991
Bhopal police charge Andersen with manslaughter and order him to appear in court. He doesn’t, of course, so India starts exerting pressure on the USA to turn him over (or in formal parlance, “extradite”). Nothing really happens, but then, Greenpeace hunted him down.

1994
Union Carbide offloads the plant by selling it to EverReady (yes, as in the batteries. Think of THAT next time you turn on your flashlight) and in …

2001
Dow Chemical buys Union Carbide (now sans the plant) and claims they have no responsibility for what happened way back in 1984 when they didn’t even own Union Carbide.

BUT THE PEOPLE WILL SPEAK

and Dow has not found itself off the hook:

Dec. 2004
a fake dude (a precursor of the fake steve jobs?) got himself on BBC claiming to be a DOW spokesperson (brand hi-jacking, hello) and claimed full responsibility on Dow’s behalf for the disaster. He even announced a $12Billion plan for the victims! (vid is totally worth watching! Wish I had guts like fake dude!)

Present
and then there’s the disconcerting website dowethics.com . It will take a while before you realize … hey, wait just.one.minute!

And there was this:
(yay, internet!)And finally …. there’s GOOD NEWS. On August 8, 2008, the prime minister pledged to meet the survivor’s demands. And DOW? Seems like they’re able to continue washing their hands of buying a lame-ass company, despite this. Same with CEO Andersen enjoying retirement in the Hamptons. As for you and me, well, we can buy Energizer batteries, xnay DOW -chemical based products like SaranWrap and Fantastik Cleaner, and donate directly to help.

About the Author


Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for your excellent coverage of the Bhopal Disaster. Dow Chemical is unfortunately implicated in a number of other toxic disasters from Midland Michigan to Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam. They also make Bisphenol A which was recently pulled from some baby bottles and store shelves because of its impact on the reproductive systems of our children. More on Dow at: http://www.truthaboutdow.org

    [Reply]

    Aug 26, 2008
  2. I had heard about this back in the day (I think the Danish Christmas calendar funds went to Bhopal one year when I was a teen?).

    It’s horrible, terrible, disastrous, etc. It’s one of those cases where you’re helpless as an individual and the legal system appears imperfect/powerless: It’s unable to achieve what decent people would call justice as it gives protection to individuals.

    The essence of the problem is that all we have is the law, and even when the law disappoints us, it’s usually a hell of a lot better than not having (or abiding by) the law.

    We’re short one Batman who can swoop in, kidnap the guilty and bring them to justice (or revenge). And the problem with Batman is that he’s only cool when he agrees with us. If he were to, say, start abducting people from around the world based on his own hunches and exact his own brand of justice on them without any oversight from “us”, then he would be a very, very bad guy.

    Of course our neighbor to the south does have exactly such an ill-mannered Batman right now: The US has a whole system for snatching individuals from all over the world, locking them up in Cuba or other secret prisons around the world, torturing them, and exacting other variations of “justice” on them.

    [Reply]

    Aug 29, 2008
  3. True and has been said a lot more. don’t forgot that this organization is also responsible for my nervous breakdown! They do not have much longer to go as they have institutionalized ‘Six Sigma’, it is my experience that companies that try to solve all their issues with Six Sigma are merged or taken over within 5 years.

    [Reply]

    Aug 31, 2008
  4. It seems that as an ex-employee of Dow, they no longer wish me to hold shares in the company. I have just received a letter of the bank saying I must sell my shares within the next 2 months, or they will do it for me!

    I predict that this is a way for Dow to buy back shares on the cheap, and be read to fight the takeover which I predicted will come in my previous post.

    If you hold shares in Dow it might be an idea to hold off selling for a little while as the price may improve in he near future as news of the takeover/merger becomes public.

    [Reply]

    Sep 16, 2008

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