Dow Chemical investors' message to management: PR campaign cannot gloss over suffering of 100,000 people in Bhopal with no acknowledgment of corporate responsibility

December 1, 2006: Press Release from Amnesty International USA

NEW YORK, December 1, 2006 – In the face of a new public relations campaign by Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) claiming the company is addressing global public health and water problems, Dow shareholders representing more than $278 million announced today that they have filed a resolution with the company requesting that it address outstanding issues resulting from the Union Carbide (UC) chemical facility explosion in Bhopal, India, on December 3, 1984. UC became a fully owned subsidiary of Dow in 2001. Pollution continues to contaminate drinking water, and combined with long term effects of the disaster, has led to serious health problems for more than 100,000 people. Filed by the New York City Pension Funds (NYCERS), the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF), and Amnesty International USA, the resolution requests that Dow provide its shareholders with a description of any new steps taken by management to address social and environmental concerns of survivors of the UC disaster. Shareholders filing the resolution are not aware of any efforts by the company to address the issues in Bhopal and filed the resolution to assess whether the promises of the new PR program are being fulfilled in Bhopal.
In its Global Public Report, Dow reports $5.1 billion in sales from the Asia Pacific region. New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., said, “We take our fiduciary responsibilities seriously, and often that requires us to look beyond the information that a company provides us. Dow has claimed for years that outstanding issues in Bhopal are not material to the company’s success, but the facts tell a different story. It is in the long-term interest of shareholders for Dow to address potential liabilities in Bhopal, rather than allow them to impact our company’s reputation and ability to expand into new markets.”
The Dow Chemical resolution on Bhopal was filed by Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., on behalf of The New York City Employees Retirement System, the New York City Teachers Retirement System, the New York City Fire Department Pension Fund, the New York City Police Pension Fund, and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System, with total assets of $96 billion. The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s total assets are $146 billion.
Shareholders will have the opportunity to vote on the Bhopal resolution at the Dow’s Annual Meeting in May 2007.
Earlier this year, Dow committed more than $30 million to a global public relations campaign – coined “The Human Element” – asserting the company’s engagement and accountability for public health and clean water around the world. Yet in Bhopal, arguably Dow’s worst legacy issue, the company still refuses to release the makeup of chemical compounds that poisoned people 22 years ago and has not addressed water contamination associated with the factory site.
According to Dow’s own statements, the ad campaign will expand beyond paid media, and will include outreach to policy leaders, NGOs, and Dow communities. This included a recent presentation to leaders at the United Nations, where CEO Andrew Liveris pledged to create clean water supplies around the world, saying, “… more than a billion people are in peril every day because they do not have enough water or the water they have is unhealthy. Lack of clean water is the single largest cause of disease in the world and more than 4,500 children die each day because of it.”
But the company’s outreach has not included Amnesty International – the world’s largest human rights organization – despite repeated attempts by the organization to engage the company since the release of the 2004 report, “Clouds of Injustice: Bhopal Disaster 20 years on.” The Amnesty International report explicitly describes the serious human rights abuses continuing to this day in Bhopal and the responsibilities of Dow to address them. The communities in Bhopal have not heard from Dow either – not since a meeting several years ago where according to survivors present, they were told simply, “We can’t help you.”
“That Dow has been denying responsibility for Bhopal for more than two decades is despicable. But the hypocrisy of the company’s new ’Human Element’ ad campaign represents a new low,” said Amy O’Meara of the Business and Human Rights Program of Amnesty International USA. “Dow/UC should use the millions they are spending on public relations to address the human rights problems around the world that the company is responsible for. A priority should be to clean up the water that their own subsidiary polluted.”
In addition to the contamination that remains in Bhopal, numerous legal issues from the Bhopal disaster are unresolved. Due to its refusal to appear in a criminal case, Union Carbide has the status of a fugitive from justice in India. As a fully owned subsidiary, these liabilities now fall to Dow. According to shareholders backing the resolution, the company needs to match the sentiment of the “Human Element” campaign with real action in Bhopal, or the potential liability it faces is likely to increase.
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