Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Bhopal Gas Tragedy by Raghu RaiRaghu Rai

The week before the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy which claimed over 16,000 lives, a US city council has ordered that all its managed funds divest from Dow Chemical stocks and bonds.

The Council members of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts have now unanimously adopted a policy order to "confer with the Board of the Cambridge Retirement System to determine if they hold Dow stocks and bonds and what steps can be taken to divest from all manner of engagement with Dow".

Councillor Nadeem Mazen has called for Dow to take responsibility for the catastrophe, saying: "When acquired by Dow for profitable means, the liability of the site still lies with them."

Bhopal was the worst industrial disaster the world has ever seen. It left tens of thousands of people dead, more than half a million injured and thousands more with debilitating illness after methyl isocynanate (MIC) leaked and spread through the shanty towns around the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal City as night fell on 2 December 1984.

Dow completed a takeover of Union Carbide in 2001 but claims it has no corporate responsibility to face the charges open in the Indian court and has consistently failed to appear at hearings, despite repeat summonses.

Last week, IBTimes UK broke the story that there are to be two shareholder resolutions brought against Dow Chemical by the end of November, with a view to forcing Dow to accept responsibility for Bhopal, to ensure compensation for all victims, to make Dow pay for a comprehensive clean-up effort and to force the separation of the roles of CEO and Chairman, both of which are occupied by Andrew N. Liveris.

Investors say that Dow's commercial interests in India are being seriously impeded by their refusal to comply with Indian authorities over the outstanding charges – including culpable homicide not amounting to murder – which they face in courts there.

"Looking at it from an investor point of view, this is a lost business opportunity and our view is that it's one thing for Dow Chemical to have problems in Taiwan or Thailand but to be frozen out of India, one of the most dynamic growth markets in the chemical industry, is really unacceptable," said Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice-President for Sustainability Research and Policy at Calvert Investments, which holds stock in Dow Chemical.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxic waste, Baskut Tuncat, has said that financial compensation alone would not be sufficient and called for the Indian government to assist in meeting the costs of a clean-up effort.

He was speaking after the Indian government pledged to reconsider the official figures of those affected by the toxic gas and to provide additional compensation. Even 30 years after the disaster, soil and groundwater around the old chemical factor are highly toxic, with serious health issues reported among residents.

He said: "However, financial compensation alone will not stop the ongoing human rights violations of Bhopal's toxic legacy. New victims of the Bhopal disaster are born every day, and suffer life-long from adverse health impacts.

"It is long overdue that action is taken to stop the ongoing violations. Without cleaning the contamination, the number of victims of the toxic legacy left by Union Carbide will continue to grow, and, together, India's financial liability to a rising number of victims."