Last week UNISON North West hosted two survivors of the Bhopal disaster at UNISON national delegate conferecne in Liverpool.
Safreen Khan – whose parents were affected by the 1984 disaster and is here representing the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal – and Satinath Sarangi – a Bhopal survivor, trustee of the Bhopal Medical Foundation and worker at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic that treats victims of the disaster - were at national delegate conference to address the North West UNISON fringe meeting.
On the night of 2nd/3rd December 1984, a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, began leaking the deadly gas methyl isocynate. None of the six safety systems designed to contain such a leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city of Bhopal.
The first 72 hours saw enormous casualties, estimated at 8-10,000 dead. In the years since over 15,000 more are believed to have died as a result of gas-related injuries and disease. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution to the area and water supply.
In 1989, Union Carbide, in a partial settlement with the Indian government, agreed to pay out $470m in compensation. The victims weren’t consulted in the settlement discussions, and many felt cheated by their compensation – $300-$500 – or about five years’ worth of medical expenses.
The Union Carbide Corporation was charged with culpable homicide, a criminal charge whose penalty has no upper limit. These charges have never been resolved, as Union Carbide, like its former Chairman, has refused to appear before an Indian court.
Union Carbide also remains liable for the environmental devastation its operations have caused. Environmental damages were never addressed in the 1989 settlement, and the contamination that Union Carbide left behind continues to spread.
These liabilities became the property of the Dow Corporation when it bought Union Carbide in 2001.
Dow stockholders filed a law suit in a bid to stop the sale, aware that a corporation assumes both the assets and the liabilities of any company it purchases.
Dow was quick to pay off an outstanding claim against Union Carbide soon after it acquired the company, setting aside $2.2bn to pay off former Union Carbide asbestos workers in Texas.
But Dow claims that it isn’t liable for the Bhopal accident.
Nearly 30 years on, the fight for justice continues.
Unison North West region hosted a fringe meeting at conference to bring this issue to the attention of delegates, to raise awareness, show solidarity with the struggle for the justice campaign, and to help ensure that nothing like this is ever allowed to happen again.
The current British government says that health and safety is an unnecessary burden on business. It supports multinationals increasing their profits with cuts to workers’ terms and conditions, including safety and supervision.
This chilling event all those years ago in Bhopal must tell us all that health and safety at work is worth fighting for. Justice must be obtained for the Bhopal victims and for all other victims of industrial death and disease.
The Bhopal Medical Appeal strives to support the Bhopal survivors’ campaign for justice here in Britain, along with raising funds for the only free health care available to those hit by the gas disaster and the ongoing water contamination.
Find out more and support the appeal at http://www.bhopal.org/