Dow accepts responsibility
December 3, 2004 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Dow Accepts responsibility Twenty years too late but Dow finally does the decent thing over Bhopal. It comes as a surprise to those who were expecting them to drag their feet forever. What next - the extradition of Anderson?
posted by rhymer (36 comments total)

 
Maybe this will start a precedent.
posted by Colloquial Collision at 4:34 AM on December 3, 2004


Apparently a hoax...

"LONDON (Reuters) - Dow Chemical Co said on Friday that there was no basis whatsoever in a BBC World report saying that it had accepted responsibility for India's Bhopal disaster.
The BBC said earlier that an interview it ran with a man it identified as a company spokesman they named as Jude Finisterra was part of "an elaborate deception." "Dow confirms there was no basis whatsoever for this report," spokeswoman Marina Ashanin told BBC World from Switzerland. "We also confirm Jude Finisterra is neither an employee nor a spokesperson for Dow."

"The bottom-line is this is not true," a spokesman for Dow Chemical in Zurich told Reuters. "
posted by Oxydude at 4:36 AM on December 3, 2004


I'm all fun for and hoaxes but if this is one, I would like to see the sick bastard who perpetrated it confined to Bhopal for a few years.
posted by Cancergiggles at 4:48 AM on December 3, 2004


The language is sickening... I hope it's a hoax for that reason alone. Union Carbide is a "headache"? She's "very, very happy?" $500 per person?

Nope.
posted by jon_kill at 4:56 AM on December 3, 2004


Just realised it was a hoax (silly me trusting Reuters like that). Though it's pretty sick, on the plus side it's probably resulted in loads of embarassing calls to Dow. That said, I guess they have no sense of shame anyway.
posted by rhymer at 4:58 AM on December 3, 2004


I think it's very clever, actually. The company is going to get sucked into a web of denial and deceit yet again, and this issue might well come under public scrutiny again.
posted by ori at 5:03 AM on December 3, 2004


"Today I am very, very happy to announce that today, for the first time Dow is accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe," company spokesman Jude Finisterra told BBC World television.

Accepting responsibility for the first time? Nah, this doesn't sound like something a professional spokesman would say. Or rather, a PR person who said something like that should be thrown out the window.
posted by sour cream at 5:03 AM on December 3, 2004


Yeah, I immediately could tell it was a hoax, although I hoped it wasn't.

That other fake PR about what they really think is actually very true, and in my opinion perversely sympathetic. Dow really has no choice about how they handle the Bhopal legacy because their stockholders would fight accepting responsibility for it tooth and nail and there'd be stockholder lawsuits, etc. It's not doable, really. If the executives and board has any sense of moral responsibility, they might somehow be finding a way to encourage some kind of external action that could force them to take responsibility in a way that the stockholders couldn't object to. But, I know I'm in fantasty land, here. Executives and the board have their own financial stake in Dow and, anyway, if I were in their position I'd have a hard time just chucking my professional responsibility for the company's health for the sake of doing penance for a mistake that, really, my company didn't actually make.

They shouldn't have bought UC. The shareholders who fought it didn't win, and that's too bad.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:18 AM on December 3, 2004


Second anniversary redux?
posted by Fezboy! at 5:27 AM on December 3, 2004


I credit MeFi and y2karl with bringing this into the public eye once again. (OK, not really, but we did have a very good discussion on this subject recently.)
posted by nofundy at 6:08 AM on December 3, 2004


Thank god the race for exclusive headlines hasn't diminished the quality of reporting though - I mean, it's not like there were many clues that "Jude" wasn't a professional spokesperson (using the word "today" twice in one sentence, being "very, very happy" instead of (at the very outside) "pleased to announce", and using the world "catastrophe" at all... ever - and that's just one sentence), and it's not like what he was saying was going to be front page news throughout the world if it was true...

Oh no, wait...

Between this and David Davies yesterday suggesting that Eamon D'Arcy holed the winning putt in the 1987 Ryder Cup, I don't know what's happened to the world. (D'Arcy's putt retained the cup - Seve holed the winning putt moments later).
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:27 AM on December 3, 2004


They shouldn't have bought UC. The shareholders who fought it didn't win, and that's too bad.

Perhaps the shareholders who did vote to purchase UC should be held to account. I don't know how it would be done, but that would seem a pretty reasonable solution to me. If shareholders can vote a company to takeover another company's debt as a liability, it should take on its legal obligations as well.
posted by AlexReynolds at 6:55 AM on December 3, 2004


Dow are caught up in a contamintation case, on a much lesser scale, in the town where I grew up. I lived for 18 years in the same neighborhood as that plant. I played cricket in a friend's backyard which had a beautiful view of the grounds of the chemical plant.

I don't think you can expect companies to take responsibility for anything willingly. Reading that article aside from the language used, the idea that a company would voluntarily part with $12b is probably on a par with the directors kitting out in overalls and mucking with the Bhopal clean up effort themselves in terms of believability.
posted by isthisthingon at 6:57 AM on December 3, 2004


"Jude Finisterra" is a rather cleverly contrived aptronym:

'Jude' was one of the 12 Apostles. He is apparently invoked in prayer when a situation seems hopeless. Finis is end and Terra is earth. It seems our anti-corporate, pseudo-PR man has a sense of humour, if not taste.
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 7:07 AM on December 3, 2004


I think it's very clever, actually.

Yeah, it's one thing to sit quietly by and do nothing, it's quite another to actively come out and say, "No, we take no responsibility! None! You hear us!" Definately a smart move on someone's part.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:12 AM on December 3, 2004


Yeah, it's one thing to sit quietly by and do nothing, it's quite another to actively come out and say, "No, we take no responsibility! None! You hear us!" Definately a smart move on someone's part.

But Civil_Disobedient, how is that any different than the companies' usual stance? Don't they usually deny responsibility when asked about the incident?

I think this was ultimately a bad move. People are probably going to remember the hoax (but not the retraction) and Dow is going to get credit for apologizing when it never did.
posted by sbutler at 7:29 AM on December 3, 2004


...if I were in their position I'd have a hard time just chucking my professional responsibility for the company's health for the sake of doing penance for a mistake that, really, my company didn't actually make.

I agree that it's not surprising, but this part of what you're saying really doesn't make sense. If a company does something wrong, and then another company buys that company, then nobody is responsible? If holding anybody to account is warranted, surely whether the corporate "person" of UC has later been sucked up into another bigger "person" is totally irrelevant.
posted by paul! at 7:32 AM on December 3, 2004


No, I'm just saying that because the responsibility is so diffused, and many of the other involved parties will object, then while there may be a few execs and board members that are moved to do the right thing, there's always going to be enough people that oppose. I really think that not very many good, honest people, including most of us, were, if in one of the execs or a board member's positions, would push for bankrupting our company. Right?

Someone has to be held responsible, and although I'm not among the people that are anticorporation, I agree that this type of thing demonstrates a serious problem.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:41 AM on December 3, 2004


It's very clearly a hoax, (I know, I know, everyone says that now, but really... it reads like The Onion), but how did it get this far? I must be the last person with any semblance of hope for journalistic integrity, but really, this would have been very simple to fact-check before you publish it, by, perhaps, calling Dow?

And so, in keeping with Occam's Razor, I have to suggest that this was intentional, for some reason. Already noted, it's a very clever, albeit arguably callous, way to make Dow restate their opposition to accepting responsibility.
posted by odinsdream at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2004


I really think that not very many good, honest people, including most of us, were, if in one of the execs or a board member's positions, would push for bankrupting our company. Right?

I'm not going to agree that I personally would hold the financial well-being of a company I worked for above the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people, or that being "good" and "honest" are compatible with acting in this way, if that's what you're trying to ask. But then, I'm not about to get hired as an exec for such a company. As you point out, a job like this requires people who are willing and able to order their priorities in this way. Is this an excuse in any way?

Incidentally, in Dow's response to the BBC, they actually give this "It wasn't us, it was the company we now own" excuse as the reason they shouldn't be held to account. But even richer than this, they claim that they have "no authority" to order their wholly owned subsidiary to do anything for the Bhopal victims, because it's a separate corporation.
posted by paul! at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2004


(BTW, that Dow response was to a BBC show called One Night in Bhopal, from last week, not to this later hoax.)
posted by paul! at 8:03 AM on December 3, 2004


Already noted, it's a very clever, albeit arguably callous, way to make Dow restate their opposition to accepting responsibility.

Great comedy is as painful and controversial as it is genuinely funny.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:28 AM on December 3, 2004


How about this: if you own stock in a company and that company is guilty of a capital crime, then you're on the hook for that crime. After all, if you profit from a crime, even indirectly, then you need to do the time.

That'd wake people up right quick.
posted by bshort at 8:31 AM on December 3, 2004


When I heard that this was a hoax this morning, I immediately thought of The Yes Men. I wonder if they were behind it.
posted by jonah at 8:52 AM on December 3, 2004


They even have some Dow stuff here.
posted by jonah at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2004


Sorry Fezboy!, missed your link.
posted by jonah at 8:54 AM on December 3, 2004


bshort, courts have again and again refused to impose criminal liability on members of a corporation. I agree with you that it's a mistake, but one of the major reasons to form a corporation these days is to shield a person from liability.

One of the most shocking things I've ever read is a case from 2001 called Gunnell v. Metrocolor Laboratories about a man who cleaned a film processing room. The company knowingly gave him a substance called "Absorb," telling him it was perfectly safe soap, when it actually contained highly poisonous chemicals. His boss took the warning labels off the bottles and diluted it with water, which only enables the chemicals to enter your bloodstream faster. The only protective gear they gave him was rubber gloves, which dissolved within half an hour. And the officers of the company would walk by and wave at him while he worked, knowing that he was incurring nerve damage as they watched.

The employee also suffered from a slowing of brain function, anxiety and panic attacks, concentration difficulties, and a whole host of other problems. He was classified as disabled, and a lower court found that the company intentionally caused him harm. But a higher court--in California, of all places--reversed and said that he had no remedy outside of worker's compensation. The members of the company who knowingly did this to him were immune from any criminal prosecution.

The system will punish you for punching someone in the nose at a bar, but inflicting huge nerve and brain damage on your employees is no problem. Great.
posted by equipoise at 9:07 AM on December 3, 2004


I just listened to NPR's 20 year perspective and they said that Dow has stated publicly they hold no responsibility for this.

Didn't they merge with Union-Carbide after it happened?
posted by scarabic at 9:24 AM on December 3, 2004


According to Reuters, Finisterra admitted to membership of the Yes Men on Radio 4 subsequently.

Jon_kill: I may be misunderstanding you, but when you say:

The language is sickening... I hope it's a hoax for that reason alone. Union Carbide is a "headache"? She's "very, very happy?" $500 per person?

Nope.


do you mean that no genuine announcement could be so callous as to suggest $500 per person was an adequate sum? If so, might I respectfully suggest a revistation of the text? Finisterra's point was that so far the most any victim of the Bhopal incident has received in compensation was $500. This point was also made in the hoax website the Yes Men set up in 2002 for the 18th anniversary - compensation for the catastrophe was between $300 and $500 per person.

This is conflicting, isn't it? It's a great way to put Bhopal back into the public eye, and highlight Dow Chemical and Union Carbide's refusal to address it, but at the same time it is inevitably going to cause upset to the victims and those who are working for them, who must have been briefly astonished and delighted.

Having said which, I imagine that the aim was to communicate to those who were familiar with the case that it was a hoax from the off. The figure of $12 billion is the same figure as the value of the Dow/Union Carbide merger in 1999.

The next question for the Yes Men may be whether there is a criminal liability - the share price fluctuation at the announcement could almost certainly be construed legally as an attempt to defraud the markets...
posted by tannhauser at 9:26 AM on December 3, 2004


Was I the only person who received a Spammy little letter from "retractions@dowethics.com"? (Return-Path: thing@firn.kunst.ch)

I wasn't sure if this yet another layer of spoofed sarcasm:

"Dow will NOT commit ANY funds to compensate and treat 120,000
Bhopal residents who require lifelong care. The Bhopal victims have
ALREADY been compensated; many received about US$500 several years
ago, which in India can cover a full year of medical care."


but then I came to the final paragraph:

"Again, most importantly of all:

* Dow shareholders will see NO losses, because Dow's policy towards
Bhopal HAS NOT CHANGED. Much as we at Dow may care, as human beings,
about the victims of the Bhopal catastrophe, we must reiterate that
Dow's sole and unique responsibility is to its shareholders, and Dow
CANNOT do anything that goes against its bottom line unless forced to
by law.

For more information please contact Marina Ashanin, Corporate Media
Relations, +41-1-728-2347, or reply to this email.
"


I guess they bought up a couple email lists to help get the word out.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:37 AM on December 3, 2004


How about this: if you own stock in a company and that company is guilty of a capital crime, then you're on the hook for that crime. After all, if you profit from a crime, even indirectly, then you need to do the time.

Can we keep a couple hundred thousand of the non-violent "offenders" at your place?
posted by Cyrano at 12:01 PM on December 3, 2004


company is guilty of a capital crime

the entire problem is the concept of corporations as "people" with "rights" or that could possibly have the attribute "guilt". if you're going to buy into a corporations "sole and unique responsibility is to it's shareholders", then it's shareholders also carry the guilt when it "does wrong". lets confiscate a few pension funds and see how long the stock market lasts, eh? i think a return to a mom and pop economy would be best for everyone. well, except, you know, republicans and their ilk.
posted by quonsar at 12:03 PM on December 3, 2004


But Civil_Disobedient, how is that any different than the companies' usual stance? Don't they usually deny responsibility when asked about the incident?

When asked, they usually resort to some sacarine canned response like, "We at Dow have great sympathy for those who may have experienced any ill-effects from any spurious chemical exposure. Thank you." Instead of, "No, that's a lie, we take no responsibility at all." Language is a pretty powerful thing: just a few changed words can preserve the meaning yet illicit strong negative reactions.

I mean, hell, do you think we'd even be talking about this if this stunt wasn't pulled? The only people making a stink would be the survivors who dog Dow every year on the anniversary of the accident.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:07 PM on December 3, 2004


No prob, jonah! I could have framed the link a little better, which you did, so yay team!
posted by Fezboy! at 12:37 PM on December 3, 2004


Was I the only person who received a Spammy little letter from "retractions@dowethics.com"? (Return-Path: thing@firn.kunst.ch)

No, Jack, me too.

The Situationist within me is jumping for joy.
posted by The White Hat at 2:38 PM on December 3, 2004


Also:

For more information please contact Marina Ashanin, Corporate Media
Relations, +41-1-728-2347, or reply to this email.


The email belongs to Marina Ashanin, Dow's African Media contact.
posted by The White Hat at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2004


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