Punking Their Way to a Better World – the Yes Men

The Yes Men are tired of corporations getting away with murder – literally. Fighting the deregulated free market, the two activists have made it their mission to get under the wealthy skins of giants like Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobile.

Their plan of attack centers on pulling hoaxes aimed at bringing irresponsible corporate behavior into the public eye. Dressed in suits, fronting as spokespeople for the corporations they’re against, they deliver impassioned speeches to conferences, the media, anyone who’s willing to listen.

Their biggest ruse saw Andy Bichlbaum live on the BBC, posing as a spokesperson for Dow Chemical (video clip above).

In 2001 Dow bought Union Carbide, the chemical company responsible for the Bhopal Disaster in India in 1984. The Boston Globe gives a description of what happened in India on that day, December 3, 1984:

“…in the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, large amounts of water entered a tank at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India. That water reacted with the 42 tons of methyl isocyanate inside, raising temperature and pressure so high that it began venting massive amounts of gas made up of methyl isocyanate, phosgene, hydrogen cyanide and more. The poisonous cloud swept through neighborhoods near the boundary wall, waking sleeping residents with burning throats and eyes, killing about 4,000 people in the first few hours. Over the next few years, the lingering effects increased that toll to about 15,000 dead, according to government estimates. A quarter-century later thousands of people are still grappling with the effects of the world’s worst industrial accident and the continued contamination.”

Union Carbide paid a $470 million settlement in 1989. India, however, initially filed a claim for $3 billion.

In 2010, a Bhopal court sentenced eight Union Carbide India execs to two years in prison for criminal negligence. One of them is dead; the others received bail.

Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the incident, has never been brought before a court. In 2002, Greenpeace tracked Anderson down in New York and served him an arrest warrant.

Dow claims that Union Carbide has paid its dues and Dow holds no responsibility for the victims or liability for cleaning up the site. But the Yes Men feel otherwise. So, on the 20th anniversary of the disaster Bichlbaum, posing as Dow spokesperson “Jude Finisterra,” told 300 million BBC viewers that Dow accepted full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe and had a “12 billion dollar plan to fully compensate the victims, including the 120,000 who may need medical care for their entire lives, and to fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal plant site.”

This, he explained, would entail liquidating Union Carbide.

Dow’s stock plummeted by $2 million in the wake of this announcement, but the financial loss was only temporary. Once the news was out that it was all a hoax it was back to business as usual.

The sadness about this, say the Yes Men, is that doing the right thing doesn’t lead to rewards when it comes to the workings of the market.

But this hasn’t put a dampener on the Yes Men’s mission. They’ve got two movies out and are going strong: pranking and hoaxing their way to what they hope is a better world.

‘The Yes Men Fix the World” film is free to download under creative commons license here.

Here’s the trailer:

According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, an organization working with victims of the spill, Bhopal is far from a closed case. According to the group’s website: “An estimated 120,000–150,000 survivors of the disaster are still chronically ill. Over 25,000 have died of exposure-related illnesses and more are dying still. Tens of thousands of children born after the disaster suffer from growth problems and far too many teenaged women suffer from menstrual disorders. TB is several times more prevalent in the gas-affected population and cancers are on the rise.”

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3 thoughts on “Punking Their Way to a Better World – the Yes Men

  1. Hi Brendon – good to see this on your blog! The Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) supports two free clinics in Bhopal, Sambhavna and the Chingari Children’s Rehabilitation Centre. Survivors of the disaster, their friends and supporters survived many attempts to stop them opening the second Sambhavna in 2006. In September of this year, they will be celebrating 15 years of treating each other with respect. dignity, kindness and groundbreaking combinations of eastern and western treatments for different symptom complexes resulting from the gas and contaminated water. They are keen to share the hardwon medical knowledge that they have gained with others affected by chemical injury and industrial disaease, which is frighteningly prevalent. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (see http://www.bhopal.net) gets stronger with each passing year and campaigns for a toxic-free future everywhere. I’m wondering about similar campaigns / progressive healthcare, in your native SA? Becky, BMA, Brighton (UK)

    • Hi Becky

      Thanks for stopping by on my blog and sorry for the late response. To be honest I’m not sure about similar campaigns in SA. But I hope the work that BMA is doing can serve as inspiration to others around the world.

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