Ethical Performance
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Indian court opens way for criminal trial of multinational over 1984 Bhopal disaster

December 2012

An Indian court has raised the possibility that US multinational Dow Chemical could be face a criminal trial in connection with the notorious 1984 Bhopal disaster.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court has lifted a stay that has for seven years blocked attempts to get the company to explain why it cannot produce witnesses from its subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), to testify at a trial. Dow claims UCC is a separate corporation.

UCC was a majority owner of Union Carbide India (UCI), which ran the Bhopal pesticide plant at the time of the accident. Dow, which bought UCC 16 years after the tragedy in 1999 – one year after UCI sold the plant – denies any connection with or legal liability for the disaster. UCC sold its stake in UCI in 1994.

The accident was caused by a leak that exposed more than half a million people to deadly methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals. While official estimates put the death toll at more than 3,500, others put the figure at nearer 8,000, with more than 525,000 people suffering illness or disability.

In a statement on, UCC says: “By requirement of the Government of India, the Bhopal plant was detail designed, owned, operated and managed on a day-to-day basis by UCI and its employees. UCC and its officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by UCI.”

UCC provided a $5m relief fund in the wake of the accident, settled claims for damages and established a $100m charitable trust to build a hospital for the victims.

A criminal case was laid out in a charge-sheet filed by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation in 1987. However, only UCI executives have faced criminal charges: eight were convicted – one posthumously – of negligence in 2010, and the seven survivors sentenced to two years in prison and fined the equivalent of $2,100 (£1,311, €1,620).

Dow Chemical | Asia | Human rights

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