Protest against the Dow CEO Invite to the Kelley Business School Conference.
Feb 28 2007
It was a cold morning on Feb 28th 2007 outside the RCA dome in downtown Indianapolis, and the morning sun was just about completing its assent into the high skies to spread the light. A bunch of people with a common cause and an ideology, were scurrying outside in the cold trying to get the world to take note of their agenda- the reason they were braving the weather so early in the morning that day. The venue was the 61st Conference for Energy and Environment hosted by the Kelley School of Business at IU and the reason was the ironical and unethical invitation extended to the CEO of Dow Chemical Corporation, Mr. Andrew Liveris to speak on a conference of Environment- the very same entity which Dow has rebuked by its reckless acts in many an occasions in the past. The protesters a bunch of graduate students from varied disciplines in IU prepared for this event many a days in advance. The letters of objection written to the Dean of Kelley Business School lead to the invitation of 3 member representative to address the concerns to the Dow CEO himself directly, during the conference Q&A. Amnesty International decided to co-host the protest and there was one representative from the Indianapolis wing of Amnesty International who decided to be present as part of the three member team who would be raising the questions.
After many deliberations, effort and hard work put in by the team members, banners, flyers and charts were put together highlighting the Bhopal tragedy and the immorality of Dow being present in such a conference and the tainted association with the same for the University. Also, the questions that needed to be raised with the CEO were prepared with great care and to make him evoke a response as thin watered as possible. On the D-day, three volunteers, Giri, Suresh and Ramyaa along with Amnesty representative held the banner outside the venue of the conference for all there to see. It caught the eye of everyone entering the Conference and also the passers by in the cars who happened to whiz past the more frequented road in the Downtown area.
Three volunteers, namely, Preeti, Tom and Harini distributed the pamphlets inside the conference hall highlighting the dubious reputation Dow has had on environment and the necessary questions that needed to be answered by them before even attempting to talk about the same for the future. The efforts were nearly successful as the flyers were disappearing fast until, the conference hosts decided to call the venue security to stop spreading the damage against Dow which was by them putting them into discomfort. The security guard showed his helplessness in letting us distributing the same inside the premises, but did allow us to distribute the same outside the radius of the hall where the conference was to take place and still within the premises of Convention Center.
Meanwhile the Conference came to a start and with it the much awaited opportunity to take the bull by its horns for the members of the AID community. Giri and Harini from AID and Tom from Amnesty were the ones who were to raise the questions and they took their respective positions inside the hall. After an hour and an half of speech from various dignitaries gracing the occasion including our wanted man Mr. Liviris the moderator decided to call a coffee break after which the Q&A were supposed to begin. Well prepared, equipped with the correct knowledge and armed with passion, the questioners awaited eagerly for their turn to handle the mike and make their points heard among an audience with least awareness for environmental concerns leave alone Bhopal.
The first one to go was Harini, and her question tried to be as general as possible, tying up the conference theme with the Bhopal tragedy in order to bring the relevance of raising it in such a setting at the same time highlighting the double standards adapted by Dow in advocating energy efficiency and environmental friendliness when they have the least regard for the same.
Ms. Harini's question "This is going to be for Mr. Liveris. My name is Harini Gopalakrishnan, and I am a graduate student at IU. I represent here an organization called AID which is Association of Indiaâ€™s Development. Before I begin my question, I would like to say that I subscribe to Mr. Malone saying in the opening statement when he talked about â€œEnergy is all about peopleâ€. And in the light of the conference being on energy and environment, I think we should take a moment to step back and remember the terrible tragedy in Bhopal, India which happened twenty two years ago. It still continues to haunt the memory of the people in that it is one of the environmental disasters and one of the biggest industrial disasters even today. Not to mention the tens of thousands already dead, we can imagine an entire city of victims who have a history of disease and mutations affect the children. It is horrifying enough to still live in a situation where basic necessities of human habitation like water and soil are practically poisoned. The Amnesty International report clearly points out the necessity for a site cleanup and the important role of DOW in setting the process in motion. To me, personally, it is very disappointing to hear a corporate giant like DOW preach energy efficiency at a big conference while failing to make amends for the past activities of its fully owned subsidiary, Union Carbide. Instead, you are just prolonging the unimaginable misery of the 200,000 residents in the Bhopal community. Being the CEO of the largest chemical company in the world and also the parent company (owner?) of Union Carbide, I would like to know, what you would like to do about this in the future:
A) Continue to leave a trail of environmental mess on you climb to the top? or
B) Set a precedence by dissociating yourself from the main? culprit involved â€“ the Union Carbide? Or
C) Even better, do something about it yourself?"
The question seemed to take the audience unprepared and the CEO even humorously acknowledged it as a tough one. But his answer just like the dubious company he heads was as disappointing as it could be. But this was expected, for what could he say but circumvent the issue for there is always no one straight answer for illegitimate cases.
The second one to go was Tom from Amnesty and he followed up Hariniâ€™s question with the evidence of their report which he brandished and the insufficient amount the CEO had stated as being provided as compensation to the government of India.
Mr. Tom Benner asked " My question is also for Mr. Liveris. My name is Tom Benner and I am a member of Amnesty International, and I have here with me the amnestyâ€™s report mentioned previous question you referred to. You mentioned that when the disaster occurred in 1984, Union Carbide was a separate corporation. Thatâ€™s true. They are now, your fully owned subsidiary. And, everyone here understands that when you purchase a company, you acquire all its assets, but also it liabilities. You talked about (paying?) four seventy million dollars to the government of India. But with all due respect, I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s sufficient. When I was a child, my parents taught me when I made a mess, it was my job, my responsibility to clean it up. Shouldnâ€™t the same thing apply to corporations as well? "
Mr.Liviris again reiterated his stance as Dow having nothing to do with the tragedy itself and that Union Carbide had settled the issue with the Indian government and he should take the next flight out to New Delhi and raise these issues to none other than the government itself. His rising discomfort at being reminded of an event which was a sore thumb to his otherwise self proclaimed unblemished record for a company with nothing but a history of environmental pillage was evident from the fact that he repeatedly passed his answers onto the moderator with an appeal to end such â€œillegitimateâ€ questioning at such a setting. People were there, to do business it seems, and business it seems never went hand in hand with ethics or humanity. And ethics and humanitarian concerns were obviously not part of an agenda in a conference which for majority of time dwelt on how to improve energy efficiency for the benefit of the so called humanity for which they have been showing total disregard.
This cannot be more evident rather than the point, when the third questioner from AID, Giri Krishnan went to ask the question on the legal obligation of Union Carbide to appear in the courts in India and their conscious inability to do so, the moderator refused to accept the question and pass it on to Mr.Liviris. This was received with applause from some sections of the crowd, an act proving the far- fetched place â€œvaluesâ€ and â€œreal life practical necessitiesâ€ had in a conference for budding and established business men. They were making tall claims and big words to address a future which would have never been corrupted but for the emphasis on profitability and mercenary attitude adapted by business houses like Dow , that sit on the same pedestal now advocating the mode of change for the future. If this is from whom we learn the future of environment then there is nothing much to be said about the quality of the same, for it is neither going to be unadulterated nor any less polluted, for Dow does not know how to respect the environment and neither is there a precedent on the same.
The Conference for the protesters was a success , a moral victory, a reinforcement of the fact that even if 5 people get together to do something, you may get noticed based on the passion and enthusiasm you have for the event- and even if the opponents outnumber you 100:1. We may have not got the Dow CEO to his knees nor got a crowd that appreciated people standing up for justice and morality in a world that needs to refer a dictionary to explain what it means- but we still showed we care, as students, as individuals and we made sure we were heard â€“ for their decline of our question was their silent acceptance of the fact that â€œyou are obviously right and we are definitely in now way to defend ourselves but we cannot say that in a conference where truth and morality has clearly taken a backseatâ€
Question & Answer #1 (Ms. Gopalakrishnan and Mr. Liveris)
Question & Answer #2 (Mr. Benner and Mr. Liveris)
Question & Answer #3 (Mr. Krishnan and moderator)
Herald Times "Students to Question Dow speaker about Bhopal leak" by Steve Hinnefeld, February 28, 2007