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October 26, 2002 - Bhopal survivors chase Dow with brooms

A keynote speech at a $75 a head environmental business luncheon ended in embarrassment for Dow Chemical's CEO Michael Parker when activists from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) interrupted to present him with a jhaadoo - an Indian broom - and invite him to clean up toxic chemicals left lying in Union Carbide's abandoned factory in Bhopal, India, site of the world's largest industrial disaster in 1984. ICJB activist G. Krishnaveni explained afterwards that "to be struck by a jhaadoo is a powerful insult in India - but chemicals like lead and mercury leaching from the factory have been found in the breast-milk of women living nearby. The drinking wells stink of chemicals and the water tastes fiery. Dow Chemical as 100% owner of Union Carbide inherits its criminal and environmental liabilities in Bhopal and must clean up."

Over the last week jhaadoos have been brandished in Texas, in Bhopal itself, and at Dow's European headquarters at Horgen, Switzerland, where gas survivor Champa Devi, 56, offered a broom to European CEO Lusciano Respini, which she said "for some reason made him so scared he ran away from the room". Electing to stand an uncertain ground, Dow's US CEO Michael Parker refused to accept his broom and declined to address questions from the press about the toxic contamination at the Bhopal factory site.

The confrontations with jhaadoo-wielding Bhopalis round off a cheerless week for Dow Chemical, which, since acquiring Union Carbide in February 2001, has insisted that Carbide has completely satisfied the Indian courts and that no legal issues remain outstanding. In fact a warrant for the arrest of Carbide's ex-CEO Warren Anderson on charges of 'culpable homicide' has been out since 1992, charges reaffirmed by the Central Magistrates Court, Bhopal, in August. This week India's Home Affairs Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister confirmed that India will formally ask for Anderson's extradition from the U.S. This followed an announcement by India's Central Bureau of Investigation that it will move to name Dow Chemical Accused #10 in the Bhopal criminal case in place of Union Carbide. Meanwhile the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, of which Bhopal is the capital, said it will ask the Supreme Court to compel Dow Chemical to pay for the clean-up of the thousands of tons of toxins still polluting the soil and ground water around the abandoned factory.

Mr Parker's luncheon in Houston was organised by Nature Conservancy, an environmental organisation which offers companies like Dow the chance to become 'Brand Identity Partners'. According to Nature Conservancy's own literature, BIPs "can align their products or corporate image with the Conservancy." An ICJB spokesman remarked "Nature Conservancy appears to be a creature of the corporate PR industry -paid handsomely by rich, polluting corporations to praise their token green gestures and gloss over their crimes. Nature Conservancy's International Leadership Council contains five of the top ten cancer-causing polluters in the U.S. and six of the top ten dischargers of birth-defect causing toxins.* Both lists include Dow Chemical. Just think of a notorious corporate criminal - Enron, Unocal, Exxon - they're all there."

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