IHS Chemical Week

CHEM IDEAS

Yes Men Poised to Put the Chemical Industry on the Back Foot this October

1:12 PM MDT | August 31, 2009 | By ALEX SCOTT

The year was 2004. I was standing on the top of a ladder painting my son’s bedroom and listening to the BBC’s news on the radio when a spokesman for Dow Chemical announced that the company was going to give billions of dollars to clean up the legacy pollution at Bhopal, India .

I had seen several credible reports highlighting ongoing pollution and health issues in Bhopal that resulted from the original 1984 explosion of a pesticides factory then run by Union Carbide (since bought by Dow Chemical). So I wasn’t surprised that a new clean up initiative might be required, but still I couldn’t believe Dow Chemical was about to put this amount of money toward such a program.

Yes man: Told BBC that "Dow accepts full
responsibility" for the Bhopal accident.

 

My scepticism proved to be well founded: The BBC later that day announced that it had been the target of a hoax and that the ‘spokesperson’ for Dow Chemical had nothing to do with the company. A U.S.-based group named The Yes Men, who challenge the activities of corporate organizations, was responsible. Dow Chemical denied that it would be spending such money on such a clean up.

That was five years ago. I am not aware of any major clean up program being undertaken at Bhopal since the hoax call was made.

The Yes Men, however, have since undertaken similar stunts on a range of corporate entities including ExxonMobil.

This October ‘The Yes Men Fix The World’, a film by The Yes Men, will appear in cinemas in the U.K. and the U.S. It will feature footage of the Dow Chemical/Bhopal hoax and other clips about large corporations and how they have been behaving when it comes to corporate social responsibility issues including climate change.

The underlying thesis of the film is “that we need to change the rules that allow the market to reward bad behaviour,” The Yes Men say.

And so the public relations fall out from Bhopal for Dow Chemical-and by default the rest of the chemicals industry-continues.

It is argued here that the chemicals industry plays too important a role in improving peoples’ lives to be exposed to such publicity, which inevitably will undermine the sector’s ability to convince the public-and perhaps some regulators-that it is a force for good and not bad.

There is only one way to head off such negative perceptions of the industry: If there is pollution still lingering in Bhopal [and the “thousands of little Bhopals around the developing world” which non-government organizations say there are] then industry should ensure it is assessed and cleaned up. If it were done with some urgency, all the better, as the next time I’m up a ladder listening to the radio I’d much rather hear a news story about a successful clean up program than the promotion of The Yes Men Fix the World II.

 

Facts on the Bhopal Accident

In 1989 Union Carbide paid the Indian Government $470 million in a settlement. Many groups continue to describe this settlement as woefully inadequate.

 

In October 2004, the Indian Supreme Court approved a compensation plan drawn up by the state welfare commission to pay nearly $350 million to more than 570,000 victims of the disaster.

 

At the time of the accident the plant at Bhopal was 51% was owned by Union Carbide and 49% by Indian authorities.

 

 













 
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