UN body urges India’s chemical industry to respect human rights


On the night of December 02, 1984, a Union Carbide chemical facility in Bhopal, India leaked a highly toxic gas, poisoning tens of thousands of people in the middle of the night, most of whom were sleeping in their homes nearby. It is estimated that more than 5,200 people died from exposure to the toxic gas.

Thirty five years on,the tragic story of Bhopal’s chemical disaster is far from over. Still to this day, contaminated water and soil from the pesticide factory’s disaster continues to be a danger to people.

The factory was owned at the time by Union Carbide. The firm later became a subsidiary of Dow-DuPont.

­The chemical industry’s ‘Responsible Care’ initiative was adopted in 1986 as result of the Bhopal disaster in an effort to prevent further abuses of human rights by chemical manufacturers. Yet this industry initiative contains no mention of human rights, and fails to require that industry respects human rights in practice.

Case after case has illustrated the chemical industry’s failure to respect the human rights to life and the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination, among others, and implement policies and practices that reflect the letter and spirit of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The chemical industry exemplifies the weakness of voluntary standards on human rights and the urgent need for strong requirements with legal force.

The petrochemical industry sits at the epicentre of the existential crises of climate change, biodiversity collapse and the toxification of people and the planet.

The existing human rights policies of nearly all chemical companies only superficially address human rights, excluding the most significant actual and potential impacts of their products and practices.

As the UN projects the chemical industry will double in size by 2030, the likelihood of human rights impacts by the industry is set to increase dramatically. (Source: OHCHR)