Letter to Trailblazers: Don’t Let Dow Bury Bhopal


Mr. Ranjan Biswas
Managing Director, Trailblazers

February 1st, 2014


We write to express our disappointment at Trailblazers’ collaboration with The Dow Chemical Company on the ‘Multiply the Message’ campaign. In a video released this week [1], Dow seeks to use the campaign to project itself as a company committed to sustainability and to “[leaving] this planet in a better shape for the younger generation”. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. We appreciate the good work that Trailblazers does in spreading environmental consciousness and in motivating teachers and students to take action, but our concern is that carrying out this work in partnership with Dow multiplies a false and deeply damaging message.

Dow Chemical is the current owner of the Union Carbide Corporation, the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster. On the night of December 2nd, 1984, the lack of adequate safety mechanisms at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal led to the leakage of 40 metric tons of toxic MIC gas, killing 8,000 people within the next 72 hours. Around 25,000 have died to date and more than 500,000 continue to suffer from chronic medical conditions caused by exposure to the gas and the ongoing toxic contamination. The toxins dumped by Union Carbide in the factory grounds have never been cleaned up and, to this day, continue to poison Bhopal’s groundwater.

Despite its acquisition of Union Carbide’s assets and liabilities, Dow Chemical refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing disaster in Bhopal. The company refuses to appear for trial in India, ignoring court summons to face charges of criminal negligence. It refuses to clean up the contaminated site, in violation of the internationally recognised principle of ‘Polluter Pays’. Even today, 30 years after the gas leak, a child born in Bhopal is seven times more likely to be born with a congenital birth defect than anywhere else in India [2].

In this context, Dow’s glossy statement of its “sustainability goals” is farcical; a cruel attempt to “greenwash” its image and to suppress the voice of a community that continues to fight for justice, in the face of three generations of suffering. Despite its tenet of “solutionism… that science and humanity can solve everything”, in the case of Bhopal, Dow seems to have abandoned humanity, legality [3] and common decency altogether. Thousands of voices – from all across India, to the US Congress [4] and the London Assembly [5] – have been raised against this.

Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of (otherwise valuable) programmes such as ‘Multiply the Message’ is in large part an attempt to divert attention from the company’s disturbing environmental record in Bhopal and elsewhere. Assisting Dow in doing this is highly damaging to Trailblazers’ credibility. Although taking individual responsibility for the environment is important, the message is incomplete without recognition of the damage that is done when individuals and corporations abdicate this responsibility. We urge Trailblazers to clarify where it stands and end its association with The Dow Chemical Company. The teachers and students Trailblazers works with, and the people of Bhopal, deserve better.

[1] ‘Multiply the Message’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qltPxN40Zds

[2] ‘New Abnormalities Seen in Third Generations of Bhopal Children’: http://www.aid-austin.org/sites/default/files/u4/Letter_Dow_Liabilities_2012.pdf

[4] Letter from members of US Congress to Dow Chemical, written after meeting with survivors in 2006: http://www.bhopal.net/delhi-marchers/docs/bhopal.letter.pdf

[5] “London 2012 Olympics: Dow Chemical partnership has ‘damaged reputation of London Games”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/news/9392569/London-2012-Olympics-Dow-Chemical-partnership-has-damaged-reputation-of-London-Games.html