Aquene Freechild, Tufts Daily, March 8, 2007
I agree with the Daily editorial board that EPIIC’s most controversial panel, featuring Dow Chemical’s CEO and Tufts Trustee Andrew Liveris, was a good learning experience. However, constructive dialogue depends on honesty by all participants, and CEOs of the most ethical corporations cannot be fully honest, at some level, in order to protect shareholder value.
While Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince highlighted his company’s toughest moments in his speech, including an admission that “I am sure that somewhere on any given day one of my employees is doing something I am not proud of,” Andrew Liveris in contrast, later stated that he “absolutely and completely trusts every single one” of his 40,000-plus employees “until proven otherwise.” Although, I learned a great deal, rhetoric and outright untruths were plentiful when it came to one of Tufts’ newest trustees.
A question was asked about why Dow continues to market Dursban abroad despite being banned for home use in the United States due to the fact that it caused severe neurological damage and even death among at least a dozen children and their families. Liveris insisted that “We do not market Dursban (chlorpyrifos) for home use abroad.” However Dow’s own European Web site states: “Chlorpyrifos … is used in and around tens of millions of homes worldwide each year.”
Liveris was asked if any recent scandals had plagued Dow. Rather than mention any of the recent headlines, Liveris highlighted that as a member of Citigroup’s board, he had seen that company through some hard times. Liveris failed to mention that only a few weeks ago Dow settled with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for $325,000 for bribing Indian officials from 1996 to 2001 to register pesticides including Dursban, the pesticide which he so ardently defended.
In the press, Dow has proudly proclaimed how it has changed its practices in India drastically since 2001, so one would think that Liveris might highlight this positive step. Yet he did not, perhaps because he was aware that those who have been to India know that the shenanigans continue. For example, when I was in India this past month, I learned of allegations that Dow submitted a map of one of its plants in New Jersey to the environmental authorities in the Indian city of Pune, instead of a map of the actual site where the plant was to be built. That the Indian authorities approved this plant for construction without so much as a hiccup suggests there may be more to learn about Dow’s conduct there.
Or Liveris could have mentioned a Dow styrene rail car leak in Dover, Del. that, according a Delaware police news release, sent 23 people to the hospital last August. Or the fact that last November Dow was fined 64.5 million euros by the European Commission for price fixing in the rubber market along with Eni and Shell.
When I asked Mr. Liveris about the 20,000 people drinking toxic water in Bhopal, India he claimed the issue had been settled in a 1989 settlement. In truth, the Indian government is currently in court asking Dow for $100 million to clean up the abandoned toxic site in an ongoing civil case.
Liveris also failed to mention that the Indian Supreme Court reopened the criminal case against Union Carbide in 1991 and that Carbide has been absconding from Indian court since that time. Despite the fact that Dow is in fact harboring a declared fugitive from justice in defiance of Indian law, Dow is continuing to push its expansion in India.
Furthermore, Liveris insisted that the funds from the 1989 settlement ($470 million) were sitting in escrow in India. Clearly, Dow’s CEO has not done his homework; the settlement was partially distributed well before Dow bought Union Carbide. A Dow spokeswoman, Kathy Hunt, is famous for justifying the small settlement amount when divided between so many victims by saying, “$500 is plenty good for an Indian.”
While interest from the settlement sat in the bank until last year, under pressure from the survivors the funds were released. Almost the entire settlement has been given to the survivors, who have used them to pay off heavy medical debts and in more fortunate cases towards building homes.
Many of the worst affected survivors live in shanty towns, which were very hard hit by the gas disaster. Many a survivor who was better off before the disaster moved into shanty towns in water contaminated areas, because they were the only places where they could afford the rents and their medical bills, but still be close enough to find work in the city.
After denying any responsibility for Dow’s water pollution, Liveris waxed poetic on his initiative to improve water standards worldwide via use of Dow’s chlorine and polyvinyl chloride, saying, “Whatever kind of water problems you have, we can help you, you know … You’ve got problems with E.coli … We can help you … You need help with dolphins … We can help you.”
I am all for making corporations more accountable, but we must start by discussing what they should be accountable for honestly. It is very nice to talk of future projects to save the world, such as the Blue Planet Run which Dow is funding for $10 million, but if they are simply used as a whitewash to cover up billions of dollars of legal, financial and ethical misconduct, they are meaningless at their very best.
At least 240 people have died in Bhopal since Mr. Liveris became CEO of Dow. Many died early deaths because they had only toxic water to drink, no adequate medical care, and no money to pay for what they had. I was in Bhopal last month, when the children were practicing a play to show what its like to go to the doctor over and over again sick because of the water.
Last Saturday, I asked Mr. Liveris to clean up Bhopal for those children. Not because neither the children, nor I, expected him to tell the truth, but because he must not forget the impact of his choice to ignore it.
Aquene Freechild is an advisory board member of Students for Bhopal and a Somerville resident.