Dow's Legacy in Bhopal

Dow’s Liabilites: Overview

Dow Chemical and Union Carbide claim that it has no liability for the Bhopal disaster.  They are simply not telling the truth. Eight years after they bought Union Carbide, two court cases remain pending: one civil, heard in the Southern District federal court in New York, the other criminal, heard before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's (CJM) court in Bhopal.

The civil case has evolved over the years. It began in 1985, shortly after the disaster, when in the Government of India filed for $3 billion from Union Carbide. In 1989 the settlement reached was a miserly 15% of that figure, and no survivors had been consulted. The settlement also absolved Carbide of other liabilities. Needless to say, the survivors filed a compaint, and within a couple of years the settlement had been partially reversed. Two cases in the US Federal Court have been filed and have withstood dismissals and reinstatements; one of them is proceeding through the court system at the time of this writing (October 2009).

The criminal case, filed in the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate's court, stems from then Carbide CEO Warren Anderson's decision to flee India and never return, in spite of the fact that he said he would. He, the company, and several key Carbide executives have been charged with manslaughter and several other serious crimes. Because he has refused to face trial in India, he has been declared an "absconder", and survivors have long held out to get him extradited from the USA. In 2009 there was a fresh warrant out for him from the Bhopal court.

In spite of Dow/Carbide's refusal to admit any culpability, and in spite of the spin created by company PR agencies, the survivors have managed to generate some legal challenges for them. The ethical challenges are all too obvious. The slow pace of the cases is due in part by the structure of the system, and in larger part by the delaying tactics of Dow/Carbide. The survivors push on, knowing that justice is on their side.