NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jacques Servin fooled the BBC and the world when he posed as a Dow Chemical spokesman five years ago and said that Dow would pay billions of dollars in compensation for India’s Bhopal disaster.
Such hoaxes by Servin and his partner, Igor Vamos, better known as the American protest group “The Yes Men,” are featured in a documentary premiering on U.S. cable channel HBO on Monday.
“The Yes Men Fix The World” chronicles their efforts to lampoon what they see as corporate greed and the excesses of a free-market economy. It won the audience award at this year’s Berlin film festival and will hit U.S. cinemas in October.
“It’s a bit like if you crossed Sacha Baron Cohen with Michael Moore,” Vamos told Reuters in a recent interview of their stunts in which they portray corporate or government representatives and infiltrate press and trade conferences to make fake announcements.
Vamos, 41, better known as Mike Bonanno, and Servin, 45, who uses the name Andy Bichlbaum among many other aliases, rely on humor to point out corporate and government irresponsibility.
“We have prioritized profit pretty much over everything else and we have seen the results,” said Servin. “We are seeing it on Wall Street, with millions of people losing their homes and we are starting to see the results of that globally with climate change.”
Several companies said the stunts are a serious offense. But Servin and Vamos have never been sued.
The BBC interview in 2004 — their biggest hoax — was picked up by several news organizations and caused Dow Chemical’s shares to tumble 3.4 percent.
“That showed that corporations can’t announce that they are going to do the right thing, because they will be punished for it,” said Vamos. “We have to change the rules.”
Dow Chemical says it bears no responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe that killed at least 8,000 people and poisoned half a million people after lethal gas escaped from a chemical plant into nearby slums 25 years ago in the central Indian city.
The Bhopal factory was owned by Union Carbide, now a Dow subsidiary, which paid $470 million to the Indian government in a 1989 legal settlement.
“While some may find ‘The Yes Men’ entertaining, it is important to realize that these pranksters continue to communicate inaccuracies,” a spokesperson for Dow said in an e-mail.
Servin also is seen delivering a speech posing as an Exxon Mobil representative in 2007 at Canada’s largest oil conference in Calgary, showing off an oil product he said was made from people who died in climate change disasters.
In another hoax, Servin posed as a U.S. government representative announcing that public housing in New Orleans would reopen and that Exxon Mobil would earmark billions to finance wetlands rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina.
Exxon Mobil spokesman Rob Young said that regardless of the film’s intent, “we think it is a serious matter when people willingly misrepresent themselves.”
Halliburton Co. , which is also mocked in the film, was unavailable for comment.
Servin appeared at a Florida trade conference showing off a survival suit supposedly made by the energy services giant aimed at keeping corporate managers safe in the event of global warming catastrophes.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Xavier Briand