Demanding Justice: How An Indian Court Took on a U.S. Chemical Giant – And Won

Two young girls stand outside the remains of the infamous Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Half a million people were exposed during the plant’s 1984 gas leak and 25,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments ranging from blindness to gynaecological disorders caused by the accident and subsequent pollution (Photo Credit: Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

Two young girls stand outside the remains of the infamous Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Half a million people were exposed during the plant’s 1984 gas leak and 25,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments ranging from blindness to gynaecological disorders caused by the accident and subsequent pollution (Photo Credit: Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

The survivors of 1984′s Bhopal gas disaster have won a significant step toward justice.

An Indian court ruled this week that Dow Chemical must explain why its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has repeatedly ignored court summons in the ongoing criminal case concerning the Bhopal disaster. Union Carbide is accused of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” for over 20,000 deaths.

“Today’s court decision is an important step in ensuring corporate accountability for the devastating consequences of the Bhopal gas leak,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. “Dow Chemical has always tried to claim it has nothing to do with UCC’s liability for Bhopal, but the court has today made it clear that Dow Chemical itself has a responsibility to ensure that UCC faces the outstanding charges against it. Dow Chemical can no longer turn its back on the tens of thousands still suffering in Bhopal.”

Almost three decades after the Bhopal disaster, victims and their families have yet to receive adequate compensation from Union Carbide or the Indian government.

Gas victims protest at a rally demanding social justice and reparations for the victims of the Bhopal gas leak. The site has never been properly cleaned up and it continues to poison the residents of Bhopal (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

Gas victims protest at a rally demanding social justice and reparations for the victims of the Bhopal gas leak. The site has never been properly cleaned up and it continues to poison the residents of Bhopal (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

“The summoning of Dow Chemical is potentially a giant step towards establishing the criminal liability of Union Carbide Corporation for one of the worst corporate disasters in world history,” said Satinath Sarangi, a member of Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

Dow Chemical, a controversial sponsor of last summer’s London Olympics, has failed to ensure that Union Carbide appear before Indian courts. The U.S. chemical giant has consistently denied any responsibility for the on-going negative environmental and human rights repercussions of the gas disaster. After a recent ruling in US courts unfavorable to Bhopal’s survivors, this week’s ruling in India represents a shift towards justice for the people of Bhopal and a step towards meaningful corporate accountability for the world’s worst industrial disaster.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Perhaps this ruling will help Bhopal’s survivors finally win the justice they deserve.

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James Mutti, India Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA, largely researched and contributed to this article.

The dilapidated premises of the infamous Union Carbide plant stand as an ominous reminder of a terrible legacy in Bhopal, India. On the night of December 2, 1984, this plant began leaking 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate, exposing half a million people to dangerous chemicals (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

The dilapidated premises of the infamous Union Carbide plant stand as an ominous reminder of a terrible legacy in Bhopal, India. On the night of December 2, 1984, this plant began leaking 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate, exposing half a million people to dangerous chemicals (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

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2 thoughts on “Demanding Justice: How An Indian Court Took on a U.S. Chemical Giant – And Won

  1. I'd postpone using "and won" in the headline until the victims actually see any money. Which could be a long way off yet..