KATHIE MARCHLEWSKI, MIDLAND DAILY NEWS, MAY 12, 2006
Neil Malhothra stands in the rain holding a banner as part of a protest while a couple walks to the Midland Center For the Arts before the annual Dow Chemical Co. stockholder meeting Thursday morning. Malhothra said he came to the protest to let Dow know “we’re still here and we still want them to clean (Bhopal) up.”
Andrew N. Liveris’ vision is to make Dow the biggest and best — the largest, the most profitable and the most respected chemical company in the world. At Thursday’s 109th annual meeting, he told shareholders that the company is getting there.
“We are already close to being the largest, if not there already,” he said. “And we are working hard to drive profitability higher.”
Coming off a record year of sales — more than $46 billion — and earnings that skyrocketed 61 percent over the year before, Liveris laid out plans for future growth and future profitability, including strategic expansion in areas such as China, Russia and India, and partnerships in the Middle East that allow access to low-cost feedstocks.
Liveris said the company’s global reach, the low-cost advantages of integration and a balanced mix of business specialties are strong points that are unmatched by competitors.
Along with continued financial success, Liveris talked about good corporate citizenship. “Being the most respected means being the best investment, the best at innovation, the best place to work and the best corporate citizen,” he said. He said the company plans to broaden its scope of corporate citizenship on a global basis.
Liveris also introduced a new set of 10-year sustainability goals. The 2015 program is “nothing less than improving quality of life for people the world over, even as we improve our company’s bottom line,” he said.
The goals include cutting energy use by 25 percent in the next decade, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 percent per year, and using science and technology to reduce, as Liveris said, “the unsustainable global appetite for fossil fuels.” Additionally, the company has set a goal of developing at least three product or technology breakthroughs that will significantly improve quality of life.
The bar is set higher than the previous 10-year goals, which ended in 2005, and will not be easy, Liveris said. “I know that, based on past performance, Dow people can and will rise to this challenge, just as they always have,” he added.
Shareholders who attended the meeting — attendance was down about 100 with the time changed to 10 a.m. from the traditional afternoon schedule — were greeted by a group of protesters demanding Dow take responsibility for cleaning up the Bhopal, India, site of the 1980s chemical disaster that killed thousands. The site at that time was under partial ownership of Union Carbide, which Dow acquired in 2001.
“Clean up your mess,” chanted representatives from Students for Bhopal, many of them students from Michigan State University.
“We keep coming because people keep dying,” said Ryan Bodanyi, group coordinator, who made his fourth trip to Midland Thursday for the annual meeting. “If it was your family, wouldn’t you keep coming?”
They brought water samples from Bhopal, one of which was offered to Liveris, who rejected it.
Liveris also rejected protesters’ suggestion that Dow inherited legal and financial liabilities for the disaster when it acquired Union Carbide.
Union Carbide paid $470 million to the Indian government and the people of Bhopal in a settlement reached more than a decade ago.
Also at the meeting, shareholders voted against four proposals, one on the topic of Bhopal:
* The New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) and the New York City Fire Department (NYCFD) Pension Fund co-filed resolutions in November in partnership with Amnesty International USA, Boston Common Asset Management and Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit Charitable Trust, asking Dow to report new initiatives to address health, environmental and social concerns in Bhopal.
Dow’s board of directors recommended shareholders vote against the proposal; the company long has held the position that it inherited no responsibility for the tragedy when it acquired Union Carbide.
* Trillium Asset Management requested that Dow compile a report on products that might cause asthma and phase out those products.
Dow’s board of directors replied there is no scientific consensus supporting Trillium’s claims, and added dust mites, molds and cockroaches are known links to asthma, but pesticides are not a trigger.
* The Adrian Dominican Sisters requested that the company disclose information about genetically engineered seed.
As a producer of transgenic corn, soybean alfalfa and cotton seed products, Dow believes its extensively regulated biotech products are providing positive benefits to society and the environment.
* Green Century Capital Management Inc. asked that shareholders require Dow officials to report on the security of the company’s chemical sites.
Dow’s board of directors replied in the proxy that while the company agrees it is important to share detailed information about security and operations with local law enforcement and emergency responder teams, the information is sensitive. For the public’s safety, it is allowed by law to keep safety assessments private.