‘Dont jump aboard the anti-Dow bandwagon’- Response to the Financial Times

Last week Financial Times assistant editor Michael Skapinker published a controversial article titled ‘Don’t jump aboard the anti-Dow bandwagon.’

The Bhopal Medical Appeal wrote a letter in reply to Mr Skapinker, and as we have yet to receive a reply and in the interest of a balanced argument, we are publishing it here:

Dear Sir,

After reading your article I felt compelled to write to you expressing my concern.

I work for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, a charity that provides the only free health care to the survivors of the 1984 gas disaster as well as those affected by contaminated water since the disaster.

Articles which claim a lack of responsibility for Dow have the unfortunate side-effect of undermining the credibility of our organisation’s presentation of the issues. Such articles therefore also potentially damage our efforts to deliver help to those who need it most in Bhopal. Our understanding is that Dow’s acceptance of its inherited civil, environmental and criminal liabilities in Bhopal is a crucial precondition of any substantive change in the social, medical and economic situation in Bhopal, a change which is our charity’s primary objective. Our funding is precarious, and though we are able to support treatment of approximately 20,000 victims of gas and water poisoning, the need is to reach another 580,000.

Your statement declaring; “the rest of us should have the sense to recognise that Dow is a long way down any list of Bhopal’s principal villains” generates particular grievance. I feel this is severely misleading. The distinction between Dow and Union Carbide I see as grossly overestimated. The fact that Dow Chemical did not own the factory at the time of the disaster is largely irrelevant. The liabilities are still outstanding and managers of Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow are absconding from charges of ‘culpable homicide’.

You imply that Dow’s logo “which won’t appear on the wrap anyway,” has little significance to the sponsorship of the games. Allowing any company with outstanding liabilities to sponsor a national event is debatably unethical, whilst allowing one with a history of negligence is making a public mockery of the people of Bhopal.

This further negates your point that viewers of the Olympics are unlikely to purchase Dow’s products. It is not about the wrap or the advertising per se, it is about the sponsorship in its’ entirety which continues to ignore Dow’s history and accountability for its’ subsidiaries.

Dow have been involved with the production of both Napalm and Agent Orange and thus aside from Bhopal they still have plenty of other crimes and liabilities to answer for. It is wrong that we encourage such behaviour from multinational corporations by allowing them to be part of a world wide celebration of human aspiration, cooperation and sustainability such as the Olympic Games.

Your article portrays Dow Chemical as coerced into both the situations as they “agreed” to the take over of Union Carbide and “agreed” to become an Olympic sponsor. This disregards any profit that Dow were, and are continuing to gain from both these so called ‘agreements.’ Although your point of blaming the big bad American corporation in some cases may be valid, in this case it is entirely unjustified.  Dow bought Union Carbide in 2001 and with it came liabilities that they still have yet to respond too. They are by no means an innocent-bystander.

Dow’s continuation to market its’ subsidiary Union Carbide’s products after the disaster further demonstrates this. This act of co-operation seems to contradict Dow’s stance that Union Carbide, despite being a subsidiary, is still a separate entity. Their argument that they can’t be held liable for the continuing Bhopal tragedy because they’re not actively operating with Union Carbide is therefore further discredited.

Portraying a one sided view from Dow’s George Hamilton and his seemingly ethical concern that the wrap be made from a recycled material is almost laughable considering the environmental contamination that to this day is poisoning the survivors.

We want to do more than “drum up trouble,” we want instead to demand the corporations to take responsibility, and to seek justice for the generations of people still suffering as a result of their negligence.

I hope that you are able to see Dow’s inappropriate role as part of the London Olympics when instead they should be in Bhopal, providing remediation to the abandoned site. Furthermore, I urge that you amend your article published yesterday.

I look forward to your response.

You can read the original article in the Financial Times here


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