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2000-03-23

Union Carbide and Anti-Burma Law

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Where is Warren? Warren Anderson, the former chairman of Union Carbide, is missing. He’s responsible for one of the worst disasters in history, and at least a dozen private investigators are searching the length and breadth of the United States for him. In 1984, a gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant killed 3,000 people and injured 200,000 others. Victims are seeking additional damages from Union Carbide and Mr. Anderson for the tragedy. Union Carbide says it agreed to $470 million in a civil case and that no further compensation is necessary. [includes rush transcript]

In other news, four states and about 30 U.S. municipalities have legislated some form of boycott of Burma, the repressive South Asian nation called Myanmar by the military junta that has ruled it since 1988. In June 1996, the state of Massachusetts enacted a selective purchasing law to avoid spending public funds on companies that do business in Burma. Modeled after the successful anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, the Massachusetts Burma Law seeks to boycott corporations complicit in the massive human rights committed by Burma’s military regime.

Levi Strauss, Eastman Kodak and Hewlett-Packard are among the many U.S. businesses that have pulled out of Burma. The largest of the handful that remain is California-based Unocal, which is a major partner in a 416-mile natural gas pipeline leading out of Burma’s Yadana gas field.

Yesterday, as "Free Burma" protesters marched outside, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), which charged the Massachusetts government with usurping the foreign policy-making power of Congress and the executive branch. The NFTC, a corporate coalition representing 600 corporations, filed a suit arguing that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s "foreign commerce clause."

Guests:

  • Rajan Sharma, attorney in the Union Carbide case.
  • Rick Herz, staff attorney, Earth Rights International. Call Earth Rights International: 202.466.5188.

Tape:

  • Sanjay Mangala Gopal, coordinator, National Alliance of People’s Movements.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is Warren? Warren Anderson, the former chair of Union Carbide, seems to be missing. He’s responsible for one of the worst disasters in history, and at least a dozen private investigators are searching the length and breadth of the United States for him. In 1984, a gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant killed 3,000 people, injured 200,000 others. Victims are seeking additional damages from Union Carbide and from Anderson, the CEO, for the tragedy. Union Carbide says it agreed to $470 million in a civil case and that no further compensation is necessary.

In other news, four states and about 30 U.S. municipalities have legislated some form of boycott of Burma, the repressive South Asian nation that has been ruled by a military junta since 1988. Burmese government troops killed thousands of protesters that year and jailed countless others. Since then, the junta has used torture, forced labor, detention and abduction to maintain its rule. Continuing on that story, the Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case brought by the National Foreign Trade Council that has charged the Massachusetts government, which passed a law saying that they would not do business with companies doing business in Burma, charged them with usurping the foreign policy-making power of Congress and the executive branch.

We’re going to talk about the Union Carbide case, as well as the Burma Supreme Court case right now, beginning with Union Carbide. We’re joined by Rick Herz, staff attorney for EarthRights International, and Rajan Sharma, attorney also for the Union Carbide case.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Rajan Sharma. Can you tell us about this latest lawsuit? People might be listening, thinking, "Boy, weren’t those lawsuits brought 15 years ago? How is it continuing to happen today?"

RAJAN SHARMA: Well, the lawsuit that’s been brought today is really based on the criminal charges, which remain pending against Union Carbide in India for culpable homicide, which is a charge that is equivalent to a U.S. charge of manslaughter. Those charges have been pending since 1991, and the company has basically refused to appear for prosecution, despite the fact that summons have been served upon them through the United States Department of Justice by the courts of India. And what the current lawsuit basically contends is that the Bhopal victims, whom we represent, should now be entitled to invoke remedies under international law for violation of international law based on the criminally culpable conduct of Union Carbide.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is Warren Anderson?

RAJAN SHARMA: Well, at present, we don’t have that information, and Union Carbide has not disclosed any information as to his whereabouts. They have agreed to accept service of a summons and complaint on his behalf, but there’s no clear indication from them where we would be able to find him or what his last known whereabouts are.

AMY GOODMAN: Has he actually gone into hiding? He was last listed as residing in Vero Beach, Florida, but no one’s been able to find him there.

RAJAN SHARMA: Right. We have a few addresses for him, including one in Long Island and one in Vero Beach, Florida. And both of those addresses, when we sent our—the organizations that are working with us to serve process on Warren Anderson, they were not able to discover his whereabouts at either of those locations or find anybody who would be able to tell them his present whereabouts.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a New York Times piece of a couple weeks ago, and it says Sean Clancy, a spokesperson at Union Carbide’s corporate headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut, said, based on the settlement with India in 1989 of all claims arising from the Bhopal tragedy, which did not just cover Union Carbide, it covered all directors, officers, employees, including Warren Anderson, he said, "We see no reason to encourage any disturbance of Mr. Anderson, who retired as chairman 12 years ago." Why are you focusing then on Warren Anderson?

RAJAN SHARMA: Well, Warren Anderson is also charged as accused number one in the criminal case pending in the Bhopal district court in India, and he’s charged with the same offense that Union Carbide is charged with, which is the offense of culpable homicide or manslaughter, based on his role as the director of the corporation and his personal involvement, what the courts and investigative agencies of India believe was his personal involvement, in the activities giving rise to the Bhopal disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: Today is a major day of protest in India. Victims from Bhopal are said to be marching in a minute. We’re going to go outside of Mumbai, formally Bombay, to speak with Sanjay Mangala Gopal, who is one of the heads of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, to talk specifically about Union Carbide. But in terms of the 15-year legal history, what happened? Didn’t Warren Anderson originally actually go to India after the disaster, and they tried to arrest him, is that right? But he got out?

RAJAN SHARMA: Well, in fact they did arrest him upon his arrival in India, and he was released on bail. I believe the bail was for 25,000 rupees, and a former employee of Union Carbide locally in India stood surety on behalf of Mr. Anderson. After that, of course, he left the country, and legal process has continued against him. The Bhopal district court has taken out notices in the Washington Post, declaring that he’s an absconder under Indian law and requiring him to be produced for trial. And he has failed to appear.

AMY GOODMAN: So he is charged in India with culpable homicide, the legal equivalent of manslaughter.

RAJAN SHARMA: That’s correct. It’s very much the same situation that you would have in the United States, where recently we’ve heard about a company such as SabreTech, which was prosecuted for corporate manslaughter in Florida, or Alaskan Airlines, which investigators are now determining whether it should or should not be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter, including some of its directors.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Rajan Sharma, who is one of the key attorneys in the Union Carbide civil suit that has been brought against, well, the company for the Bhopal disaster, as well as Warren Anderson, the former CEO. Rick Herz is with us, who’s staff attorney with EarthRights International. He’s working on that case, as well as another, and I’d like to broaden it to the other and then come back to the Union Carbide case.

Rick Herz, you were yesterday in the U.S. Supreme Court looking at—listening to the oral arguments in the case being brought against Massachusetts. Can you tell us about that case and what the state legislature did and what business is saying about it?

RICHARD HERZ: Sure. The Massachusetts state legislature passed a law. Normally when the Massachusetts government buys things or contracts with private parties, it submits—it lets companies submit bids, and the lowest bidder gets the contract. That’s the case all over the country, and it’s also the case in Massachusetts. What Massachusetts did on top of that was say that if a company does business in Burma, when it submits its bid, there will be a 10 percent penalty on the bid, because Massachusetts wanted to express its outrage at companies that were doing business with the junta in Burma.

The National Foreign Trade Council, which is a coalition of dozens, if not hundreds, of the largest multinational corporations in the United States, they challenged that law in federal court, and they said that the Massachusetts law impinges on the federal government’s authority to conduct foreign affairs and to regulate foreign commerce, even though Congress had not explicitly forbidden what Massachusetts did. For its part, Massachusetts argued that it wasn’t regulating anything. All they were doing was acting as you or I could in the market, choosing whether to buy or whether not to buy from certain parties based, in this case, on the moral outrage that they felt about what those parties were doing. And they pointed to the long line of Supreme Court cases that say that when a government participates in the market as a private party could, it doesn’t infringe upon federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did the oral arguments go? What were the kind of questions that were asked?

RICHARD HERZ: Well, they really gave both sides a pretty hard time. The justices seemed fairly concerned that this did in fact impinge upon the government’s ability to conduct foreign affairs. Some of the justices were wondering how it is that there’s something like 39,000 state and local jurisdictions, and how could Congress keep track of what all these jurisdictions were doing. And they—some of them did express concern that this would—since Congress couldn’t manage it, it would be very difficult for the federal government not to be faced with conflicts with foreign trading partners like the European Union and Japan, who have already expressed concern and protest over what Massachusetts did.

Other justices seemed compelled by the argument that Congress could have stepped in and said to Massachusetts that they can’t pass a law like this. Indeed, they could have stepped in and said that no state can pass a law anything like this—with the stroke of a pen, had done that in one sentence, assuming that the president signed the bill.

AMY GOODMAN: Sounds like the arguments against this legislation are like those of the World Trade Organization, which is why so many people were in Seattle, saying that it could overturn laws of democratically elected legislatures, the will of people, in various municipalities or states.

RICHARD HERZ: Well, basically that is their argument. It is that—but not based on anything that an international body like the World Trade Organization does, but just based on the power of the federal government, that this—the argument that the National Foreign Trade Council made is that this was an enclave of federal power that states cannot legislate in, even if Congress has not said anything about the particular topic.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the corporations represented in the corporate entourage of President Clinton’s trip to India is Unocal. Unocal, would it be the number one hit company if this law is upheld?

RICHARD HERZ: It’s difficult to say. I’m not really sure if Unocal itself was trying to contract with the government of Massachusetts, and it’s not exactly clear who is in the National Foreign Trade Council. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but at least at the district court level, the National Foreign Trade Council was not willing to reveal who its member companies were.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Herz, you have been involved in this case, the Massachusetts case. You filed an amicus brief, is that right?

RICHARD HERZ: We filed an amicus brief to the First Circuit, but we did not file an amicus brief before the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: And you also are a cooperating attorney in the Union Carbide case. Can you talk about some parallels?

RICHARD HERZ: Well, the legal issues involved, of course, are very different. The broad parallel is that in both cases you have companies that are trying to distance themselves from any responsibility from acts that they take abroad. In the Carbide case, they’re trying to get out from under a civil suit for damages based upon harms that they caused in a foreign country. Here, the National Foreign Trade Council is also trying to say that state legislatures have no authority to hold multinational corporations accountable for their actions. So, in that sense, they’re very complementary arguments by the corporations in that they’re basically seeking there to be no organization or no governmental power that can hold them accountable here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Rajan Sharma of the Union Carbide case, how long have you been working on the Bhopal disaster and getting people some kind of reparations?

RAJAN SHARMA: Well, my work on the Bhopal disaster actually started when I was in law school. I worked with a distinguished legal adviser to the victims from India, who was a visiting professor there, Professor Upendra Baxi, and we basically discussed at length and researched the issue as to the current situation of Union Carbide and the outstanding and unresolved criminal liability of the corporation. And I went to Bhopal in 1995 to consult with the voluntary organizations composed of the survivors and victims of the disaster in order to coordinate with them how best to address the issues that they’re facing, even today. And subsequently, we were able to work with other groups in the United States, such as EarthRights International and the law firm that we’re currently involved with, Goodkind Labaton, to assist us in bringing this case.

AMY GOODMAN: So how much longer do you think it will continue? And in Bhopal, what is the level of the suffering of people now, 15 years later?

RAJAN SHARMA: Well, the level of suffering in Bhopal is really unabated, in one sense. The voluntary organizations and the various medical organizations that have studied the disaster, or the health impact of the disaster, have concluded that approximately 10 to 15 people continue to die every month in Bhopal as a result of illnesses or complications from the toxic gas exposure, which took place in the disaster. And there are people, a large number of people, in the hundreds of thousands, who continue to suffer from a host of illnesses, including neurological and respiratory ailments from the toxic gas exposure, as well as menstrual irregularities and birth defects, which are much higher in the affected areas of Bhopal than they are in the rest of India.

AMY GOODMAN: Well I want to thank you both for being with us and ask if you have websites where people can get further information both on the Union Carbide case as well as the Massachusetts law that’s been brought to the Supreme Court on the issue of Burma. Rick Herz of EarthRights International?

RICHARD HERZ: We are currently building our website.

AMY GOODMAN: A number that people can call to get information?

RICHARD HERZ: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the number?

RICHARD HERZ: Oh, it’s 202-466-5188.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s 202-466-5188. And Rajan Sharma, is there a particular website you could recommend to find more information out on Bhopal?

RAJAN SHARMA: Yes, there are three websites. One is—well, two websites are maintained by the voluntary organizations themselves in Bhopal. Those are www.bhopal.org and www.bhopal.net, as well as another lawsuit which focuses—I mean, another website which focuses specifically on the lawsuit, which is www.bhopal-justice.com.

AMY GOODMAN: And those cases, of course, Bhopal spelled B-H-O-P-A-L. I want to thank you both for being with us. Rajan Sharma, attorney in the Union Carbide case, Rick Herz, staff attorney with EarthRights International based in Washington, D.C. Again, 15 years ago, December 3rd, 1984, 40 tons of vaporous methyl isocyanate, hydrogen cyanide, monomethylamine, carbon monoxide and possibly 20 other chemicals were released from the Union Carbide pesticide plant after the explosion took place there. Three thousand people were killed very soon after, many have died since, from gas-related illnesses. Two hundred thousand were injured.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute to go to India and then we’re going to go to England to find out about developments in a race killing a few years ago.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we go now just outside Mumbai, which was Bombay, India, to [inaudible]. I spoke the other day with Sanjay Mangala Gopal of National Alliance of People’s Movements, where major protests were planned, today, in particular, around Bhopal, as they demand President Clinton apologize for and be held accountable, the U.S. be held accountable, for what happened in Bhopal.

SANJAY MANGALA GOPAL: I am Sanjay Mangala Gopal, national co-coordinator of National Alliance of People’s Movements, India. This is alliance of more than 150 organizations and movements in India which are all fighting against globalization. They are working with farmers, tribals, backward caste communities, [inaudible] youth and women.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the issue of Bhopal, Union Carbide, one of the—

SANJAY MANGALA GOPAL: On 23rd—on 23rd March, we are going to demonstrate on Bhopal issue, because 16 years back this American transnational corporation, Union Carbide, in that company the gas leakage has caused the death of more than 3,000 people, and it has affected a permanent disability, some cancer and other diseases, in over 120,000 people in Bhopal, already poor people staying in the poorer [inaudible]. So they are fighting for the last 16 years, and we are all, from India—are supporting their struggle for the last 16 years for the justice.

Our—the demand is—the greedy are roaming free. It is shocking that Union Carbide Corporation, U.S.A., and Warren Anderson, the two principal accused in the criminal case arising out of the industrial massacre, remain to be brought to justice. A non-bailable arrest warrant has been pending against Anderson for the last eight years, and [inaudible] government has not even sent a formal request to the government of U.S.A. for his extradition. So, we are fighting on this issue.

Second thing is that the rampant corruption and inefficiency [inaudible] official, they canceled the gas relief and rehabilitation department, government of Madhya Pradesh, optimal—optimal state of relief and rehabilitation of the survivors is very disastrous. So, we have requested Bill Clinton to visit Bhopal and see what their company has done 16 years back and how U.S. government has not shown any sympathy, not taken any responsibility, when the same government and same representatives are teaching democracy to our [inaudible]. So that is the reason why we are organizing demonstration on 23rd March in Mumbai, in Delhi, on the Bhopal issue.

AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like, though, the Indian government is as culpable in not redressing the Bhopal problem as the U.S. government. Is that true?

SANJAY MANGALA GOPAL: Yeah, it is the U.S. government, is responsible, because it was U.S. transnational. And when, in the recent Seattle conference, when U.S. president was talking about environmental standard in the production industry and labor standards and all whatnot, what are their transnational corporations doing in countries like India? They are violating environmental standards. They are creating such disasters. So it’s U.S. government and those transnational corporations that are responsible for this massacre. That is what we see, and our government should pressurize for the justice. But, unfortunately, they are begging. That’s why the peoples of India are standing against Clinton’s visit, when their representative so-called politicians are welcoming and going red carpet for him.

AMY GOODMAN: Why doesn’t the Indian government demand from the U.S. government reparations for what happened in Bhopal?

SANJAY MANGALA GOPAL: One thing we feel is that the IMF and World Bank agenda, which started 10, 15 years back, issuing the loans and aid and all that, and steadily bringing in these structural adjustment programs where they are putting the conditions, which are stringent on the government, and the government should have will power, the political will power to throw out those conditions and stand on its own, which many people in India and many people fomenting in India feel we are capable of doing it. But for that bank, that West development paradigm will have to be rejected. So, which of the political parties, mainstream parties, are [inaudible], and that try to follow the Western development paradigm, they are following the U.S. government. That is the reason they are not standing against them.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanjay Mangala Gopal of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, speaking to us just outside of Mumbai today, a major day of protest in India against President Clinton’s trip, against globalization, and particularly focusing on the issue of globalization. And as he was just talking about the World Bank and the IMF, in fact Sanjay Mangala Gopal was in Seattle, and people are expecting to see a mini Seattle in Washington, D.C., as thousands of people descend on the nation’s capital to try to stop the opening meetings, annual meetings, of the World Bank and the IMF on April 16th and April 17th. There are coordinating and preparatory meetings all over the country on these protests, and a website that gives you more information on that is www.a16.org, for April 16th. That’s www.a16.org.

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