REPORT BY RYAN BODANYI, ORGANIZER, STUDENTS FOR BHOPAL
BHOPAL RESOLUTION WINS BACKING OF MAJOR DOW SHAREHOLDERS AND CAPTURES 6.3% OF THE VOTE
Today, May 11, we pissed all over Dow on their special, special day: the Dow Shareholder’s Meeting. About 20 protestors from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan made the journey to Midland, representing chapters of Amnesty International, the Association for India’s Development, Physicians for Human Rights, and Students for Bhopal. We were met there with a cold, driving rain: lashing us, drenching our skin, and making our signs bleed. Despite the nasty weather we put up a strong presence, screaming out our chants with a single voice:
— What do we want? JUSTICE!! When do we want it? NOW!!
— Mommy always said! …CLEAN UP YOUR MESS!!!
— DOW SHALT NOT KILL!! DOW SHALT NOT KILL!!
— What do we want? CLEAN WATER!! When do we want it? NOW!!
— Justice for Bhopal! JUSTICE FOR ALL!!!
Our chants reverberated against the building and across the broad parking lot, where well-dressed Dow Shareholders – mostly former or current Dow employees – cast furtive glances at us as they slinked into the meeting. However some of them were bold enough to approach the grassy knoll (where we encamped) and pass along the line of signs, reading them carefully before entering the meeting. The media was there too, and both Neil Sardana (a former Michigan State student and Corporate Action Network coordinator for Amnesty in Michigan) and I spoke with a reporter from the Midland Daily News and a television crew from WJRT Channel 12 (ABC affiliate). Their questions (at least of me) were strangely synchronic: “You’ve been coming here for several years,” they said. “Do you really feel like you’re making any progress? Why do you continue to come?” “It’s very simple,” I answered: “because people continue to die.” And I courteously went on to explain that tens of thousands are still wallowing in toxic filth – still today – and drinking poisoned water because Dow refuses to accept their legal and moral responsibilities.
Inside the meeting, out of the rain and away from our chants, Neil Sardana formally presented the Bhopal resolution before the CEO Andrew Liveris and the assembled body of Dow Board members. The resolution, which calls on Dow to write a report for the benefit of their shareholders, explaining their initiatives to address the concerns of Bhopal survivors (given the reputational damage the ongoing campaign presents to the company, and shareholder value) was sponsored this year by New York City Fire Department (NYCFD) Pension Fund, the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) and Amnesty International USA along with Boston Common Asset Management and Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit Charitable Trust. Shareholder proponents hold over 4.5 million shares worth over $190 million.
This was the second year the resolution was voted on by shareholders, and it garnered 6.3% of the vote. That may not sound like much at first, but it’s worth keeping two things in mind:
1. The Securities and Exchange Commission rules allow for resolutions to be reintroduced if they attain at least 3% of the vote the first year; 6% the second, and 10% the third. So we’ve passed the threshold for re-introduction next year: an important milestone.
2. Six percent is a very respectable showing for resolutions that, like ours, make mostly moral arguments concerning the responsibilities of the company. Given that the number of shares you own is the number of votes you can cast, major institutional (often conservative) shareholders (such as banks, mutual funds, and the like) have a huge voice on resolutions such as this. Many institutions also often cast their vote as the company management recommends (guess what Dow recommended) and votes that are not cast are automatically counted in favor of the company. So the process is stacked against us.
The vote we received is an embarrassing slap in the face of the company. Major institutional shareholders backed us, and that’s a humiliating rebuke. Our task is to ensure the humiliation grows next year by pushing the vote tally above the 10% threshold set by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Both prior to Neil’s introduction of the resolution, and in direct response to it, Dow CEO Liveris reiterated the same tired trash they trot out every year: ‘We don’t feel this is our responsibility, which properly belongs to the Indian Government;’ ‘Dow is not liable;’ ‘This is not an issue of concern for Dow Shareholders;’ ‘Any cleanup is the responsibility of the Indian Government;’ etc. Listen: we’ve heard it all before, and sheer repetition cannot turn dirty lies into gleaming truth.
But Dow’s very insistence upon these long-overused public relations lines – their feverish, sweaty, desperate insistence upon them – is one of the reasons why they find these protests and visits of ours so nettlesome. During the question and answer session, Neil offered Dow CEO Liveris a sample of poisoned drinking water. ‘This is offered to you from the citizens of Bhopal, who are forced to drink and live with this water everyday,’ he said. Liveris brusquely refused to accept it: ‘I reject your sample of water,’ Neil quoted him as saying. Clearly, the gesture had him rankled.
All in all, we did what we came to do. In the face of nasty weather and soulless people, we told the truth, told it loudly, and told it to those who wanted to hear it least: Dow’s CEO and Board of Directors. The fact is, as much as it may confuse the local media reporters, we won’t give up and we won’t give in. We will continue to insist, louder and stronger, that Dow do what it must in Bhopal. Why? It’s very simple: because people continue to die. Dow may not care, but those of us with souls do.