the inhuman element

October 3, 2007 at 11:03 am | | lab safety, news, science and the public

Is anyone else sick of Dow’s Human Element campaign? I know I’m not the first to note the irony. Dow bought Union Carbide and now refuses to take responsibility for the cleanup and liability of a terrible chemical accident in Bhopal many years earlier.I know that it is a complex issue—legally, politically, and ethically—but Dow is a little disingenuous to claim that they care so much about humankind. If Dow were human-conscious, the problem might become simple: Union Carbide shirked on its responsibility to clean up a disastrous chemical spill; Dow bought Union Carbide; along with the benefits of owning Union Carbide come the responsibility of correcting a financial and moral wrong. Instead, Dow only points out that it didn’t own the plant when the accident occurred. But that ignores that fact that today Dow is still benefiting from Union Carbide’s escaping responsibility.I say that Dow just pay for the cleanup (which other companies are willing to help with). Maybe even pay some liability settlements to the poor people harmed by the spill and contaminated lands. Then Dow can show ads like the following with a clear conscience.

[google -5925107796437659727 nolink]

To learn more, you can read a book by a PhD chemist from Union Carbide: The Black Box of Bhopal. I haven’t read it. I’m nowhere near an expert on this topic. Maybe I’m way off in my opinions: It’s just a gut reaction at this point. Other viewpoints?


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  1. I completely share your concerns about Dow’s sham PR, the Human element is the most grating for certain when compared with the 10-15 monthly deaths that continue unabated in Bhopal. Dow’s cheerful spending of millions buying favor at universities like UC Berkeley and MIT, when the money could be spent actually saving lives is also sickening. I hope those brilliant minds chose to work elsewhere.

    Comment by Aquene — October 4, 2007 #

  2. This is the first I hear of Dow’s Human Element campaign and of the Bhopal disaster. Here’s a preliminary assessment. I snooped around Dow’s website that you linked us to, and it appears their campaign focused on sustainability in broad language. Nasty as it is, an argument can be made that taking responsibility (or not) for Bhopal is probably tangential to the Human Element campaign. Also, I couldn’t access the link discussing how Dow refuses to take responsibility. Next, I suspect this issue is more complicated than your third link let on. It’s quite possible that Dow has agreements with other organizations to indemnify it against such disasters, in which case it’s really not fair to make Dow pay when it’s already someone else’s responsibility. Also, I think Dos’s point is persuasive — that it’s unfair for them to be held responsible for the factory back when they didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t see how they’re benefiting from the disaster now that they own the factory. Presumably, the leak is now sealed. Lastly, you linked us to other organizations that would chip in to fix up the damage. I saw only one organization — some non-profit named Cherokee — that offered to chip in. But who knows how much? And why should their efforts to fix the problem be predicated on what Dow does? Shouldn’t Cherokee just go and fix up the place? In any case, I can imagine Dow wouldn’t want to take their help if that would indicate an admission of liability on Dow’s part. OK. Now that I’ve played Dow’s Advocate, I must say that the Bhopal disaster is completely horrendous, and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it earlier. If Dow were smart, they’d offer a sizable charitable donation to fix up the damages, take it as a tax deduction, expressly state that is not an admission of liability, and help out!

    Comment by jordan — October 8, 2007 #

  3. Are we being fair here?

    The original settlement between Union Carbide India (the company responsible for the disaster) and the gov’t of India in 1989 (5 years after the disaster happened) was $470 million – this amount was paid IN FULL by Union Carbide immediately after the settlement was reached. The gov’t of India currently has (after accrued interest) $390 million left of this settlement. Dow chemical aquired Union Carbide in 2001, a full 17 years after the disaster! Furthermore, in 2006 the Registrar of the Indian Welfare Comission stated: “all cases of initial compensation claims by victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy have been cleared.… With the clearence of initial compensation claims and revision petitions, no case is pending….”

    What the hell is Dow supposed to do?!?!

    Let’s be responsible with our allegations. I know Dow is a profit-driven multinational, and so by some definitions evil, but let’s not be ridiculous…Dow never HAD any obligation to clean it up, Union Carbide made a multimillion dollar donation in ’84 to the Bhophal hospital as well as offering to establish it’s own public hospital (an offer that was declined), and if there are any outstanding claims the Indian Gov’t has an additional $390 million of settlement money to go through BEFORE Dow is even CONSIDERED as a possible defendant. The Indian gov’t can sue Dow all it wants, but it already has an estimated $390 million to go through first. I doubt it can win it’s lawsuit even in Indian courts.

    If this suit is not only seen as viable, but socially acceptable as well, then I want my reparations money! Hell, if Dow can be sued for the actions of an acquired company before the acquisition, then I sure as hell can sue someone for something their RELATIVES did.

    Oh wait, I can’t under U.S. law since you’re not responsible for your relatives actions unless you’re directly involved. Why is this any different?

    Comment by charles — October 9, 2007 #

  4. can you direct us to a source that says India still has $390 million from the original settlement? i believe you, i just want see if for myself.
    as far as the reparations argument, Dow is not a person, it’s a company that bought another company that still had obligations. those obligations should be passed along (with the financial benefits).
    anyway, i do think that some sort of reparations need to be paid. not money directly from former-slave-owning families to former-slave families, but SOME payment for forced labor and the benefits from it that some people still enjoy today.

    Comment by sam — October 9, 2007 #

  5. […] note: This is a follow-up of a previous post. Apparently, Charles disagrees with me. […]

    Pingback by Everyday Scientist » Let’s Be Fair to Dow — October 9, 2007 #

  6. Reparations for slavery were an example. They are nonsense. Regardless, I stand by my points about Dow.

    Comment by charles — October 9, 2007 #

  7. I think you’re all missing the big picture here. That video was beautiful. And is very true. Why don’t you people pay attention to the message inside the video instead of focusing on that other garbage.

    Comment by Tyler — December 7, 2007 #

  8. because it’s an advertisement, Tyler. an advertisement.

    Comment by sam — December 8, 2007 #

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