The American executive many believe was ultimately responsible for the horrific Bhopal gas tragedy has died at a Florida nursing home after years of evading Indian justice.
Warren Anderson was the chief executive of Union Carbide – now part of Dow Chemical – in December 1984 when a leak at a chemical factory in the town of Bhopal, Madya Pradesh killed nearly 4000 people in what would become the worst industrial disaster in history.
Many activists believe that the leak was caused due to shoddy attention to maintenance and safety procedures.
Anderson was arrested at the site of the factory four days after the disaster but fled on a company private jet back to the US after being bailed.
He was later charged with culpable homicide in the tragedy by an Indian court. Court documents revealed that Anderson knew about a 1982 audit at the factory which identified more than two dozen major safety hazards but failed to address the issues.
Over the years he escaped multiple calls for extradition by the Indian government to face the charges – many say with the active support of the US government.
Recently de-classified CIA documents also suggested that Anderson’s quick release on bail was ordered by the then-government of Rajiv Gandhi who feared that his imprisonment would be disastrous for its plans to attract foreign investment into India – particularly from companies in the US.
In 1989, Union Carbide agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian government to settle compensation claims by victims but refused to accept liability, instead placing the blame on the company’s Indian subsidiary.
That failed to satisfy many survivors and activists who continued to campaign for Anderson’s prosecution.
Born in 1921, Anderson was the son of Swedish immigrants who had moved to New York in the early part of the century.
A talented high-school and university athlete, Anderson was the epitome of the American corporate climber who led his country’s industrial giants throughout the second half of the 20th Century.
He was appointed chairman and chief executive of Union Carbide in 1982.
After his appointment to the helm, Anderson set about setting right the company’s poor recent run of financial results. He went on an acquisition spree, eventually overseeing more than 700 plants in some 40 countries.
The relentless pursuit of profits, some experts say, meant the company had scant regard for safe working conditions at plants in the developing world – according to Greenpeace, recommended upgrades to plant machinery in Bhopal were instead implemented at the company’s factories in the United States.
Bhopal was the result. The official figure of the dead stands at 3787 but campaigners say it three times that. Hundreds of thousands have been affected with lung disease, cancer, liver and kidney failure rife to this day.
The tragedy affected Anderson badly, he later said, admitting to not being able to sleep and being weary of laughing when he was out in public with his wife for fear of people thinking him “insensitive”.
It must be like when someone loses a son or a daughter…You wake up in the morning thinking, can it possibly have occurred? And then you know it has, and you know it’s something you’re going to have to struggle with for a long time”, he said at the time.
A court in Bhopal in 2010 convicted seven former employees of Union Carbide India for their role in the tragedy, only prompting further calls for Anderson to be brought back to India.
After his retirement, Anderson lived a life of relative anonymity despite frequent protests outside his luxury homes by demonstrators and activists.
His death, which was not announced by the family and was only reported by a local newspaper in Florida, means that the fight for closure for many victims continues.