Dow rejects proposal to clean Bhopal using first-quarter profits

May 12, 2005
The same man who appeared on BBC World TV last December as a Dow
representative to announce that Dow would finally clean up Bhopal [1] showed up today at Dow’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) to suggest the
same thing to Dow’s board of directors and shareholders.

Jude Finisterra
“We made an incredible $1.35 billion this quarter,” said “Jude
Finisterra,” aka Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men [2]. “But for most of
us, that’ll just mean a new set of golf clubs. Let’s do something
useful instead – like finally cleaning up the Bhopal plant site, or
funding the new clinic there [3].” Dow Chairman Bill Stavropolous
responded to “Finisterra’s” suggestion with a curt dismissal [4].
The Yes Men joined other shareholder groups in Midland, including
Amnesty International, which condemns Dow’s lack of response to the
Bhopal crisis as a human rights issue [5].
Two weeks ago at a London banking conference to which they had
accidentally been invited, two “Dow representatives” described a new
Dow computer program that puts a precise financial value on human
The 70 bankers in attendance enthusiastically applauded the lecture,
which described various industrial crimes, including IBM’s sale of
technology to the Nazis for use in identifying Jews, as “golden
skeletons in the closet”–i.e. lucrative and therefore acceptable.
Several of the bankers then posed for photos with “Dow Acceptable
Risk” mascot “Gilda, the Golden Skeleton,” and signed up for licenses
for the “Acceptable Risk Calculator,” which helps businesses determine
the exact point where human casualties will start to cut into profit,
and suggests the best regions on earth to locate ventures with
potentially very high death tolls.
See for video
and photos of the event, and to try out the
“Acceptable Risk Calculator” for yourself.
Dow may not appreciate the website–but the US State
Department finds it quite useful, and refers requests for information
about Bhopal to various of its pages: see for an example.
[1] See
[2] Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno had been given one Dow
“proxy” each by actual shareholders, giving them the right to attend
the annual meeting and address the Dow board.
[3] Two weeks ago, the Sambhavna Trust Clinic of Bhopal opened a new
wing to serve the victims whose numbers continue to grow due to
groundwater contamination from the uncleaned plant site. See for information on how you can contribute.
[4] See for complete
statements and responses, including Yes Man Mike Bonanno’s feverish,
red-eared tirade in a neck brace.
[5] See See also and

Yes Men “Jude Finisterra” (Andy Bichlbaum) and Mike Bonanno addressed the Dow Board at Dow’s May 12, 2005 AGM. Here’s the story.
Dow wasn’t taking any chances at this year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). For the first time in Dow’s existence, each and every shareholder was being searched on entry. A phalanx of guards had been hired, and a battery of eight metal detectors were set up at the entrance to the Midland, Michigan Center for the Arts. Every one of the two thousand shareholders who would show up had to empty pockets, check cellphones, let guards rifle through purses.
For the first time in history, even press weren’t allowed in with recording devices; they stood outside, amazed at being barred, amazed afterwards at the Dow shareholders’ muteness about what had transpired. What was all this about? Why the paranoia?
John, who was attending the meeting with Mike and Andy of the Yes Men, scouted the scene and returned to the car to explain the dire security situation. All gizmos went back in their bags: Andy took off his hastily fashioned neck-tie camera and wireless transmitter; Mike removed his neck-brace camera, wireless transmitter, camera deck. We’d known there’d be no recording devices allowed, but we hadn’t thought they’d have mobilized so much technology to enforce the rule.
Now we were ready to pass through the guards and metal detectors. Andy tossed his cellphone, coins, and “golden skeleton” keychain into the dish before passing through. He still beeped. Oh well: he tossed in the little voice recorder he thought he’d be able to smuggle through; he’d even taken out the batteries and handed them to John for safe keeping.
Somehow, though, only his cell phone was taken by a Dow guard, in case it had a camera function; the voice recorder remained in the dish. Andy took it back, got the batteries from John in the bathroom and reinserted them.
It was soon very clear that many of the guards knew who we were. “Loved your movie,” one of them pointedly said to Mike as we entered the meeting.
It suddenly occurred to us that we just might be the cause of all this nonsense. Dow was legally required to let us into the meeting since we were officially speaking on behalf of some actual shareholders, but they must have resented the extra expense of having to provide entertainment for guards.
The meeting was every bit as dull as one might expect. We sat with about two thousand others at the lovely Midland Center for the Arts, facing a row of chairs at which the Dow board were seated. Chair of the Board Stavropoulos officiated. He began by advising shareholders to vote against a resolution discouraging Dow’s continuing emphasis on the production of toxic materials. Then CEO Andrew Liveris presented a Powerpoint presentation. Dow is number 34 on the fortune 500. That’s bigger than Microsoft! Dow’s profits are up 26% in the first quarter. That’s worth more than a billion! Dow is doing really, really great! Finally, Liveris explained that sustainability is a “cornerstone” of Dow’s business. Towards that end, they are supporting Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures society! Jean-Michel is the son of Jacques Cousteau! Jacques Cousteau meant a tremendous amount for the world’s oceans! Dow’s proud to be such a good corporate citizen!
Then the votes were counted. (Really the votes had already been counted. Not a soul raised a hand; the voting part was just ritual.) 43 million shares voted for considering the effects of toxics, 500 million shares against. Another example of “cornerstone” sustainability. But as Cousteau might say, tell it to the fish.
The regular meeting was adjourned, but everyone stuck around for question and answer period, which the SEC mandates as a time when shareholders are allowed to address the board. This year, questions were limited to two minutes rather than the usual three.
In an unprecedented move, Stavropoulos pre-empted questions about Bhopal by giving a lengthy lecture on the subject. The lecture was similar to what one can read on Dow’s website, with some unusual details. For one thing, he proudly noted that Dow has generously funded a “state-of-the-art museum for the victims” of Bhopal [sic]. He also addressed the question of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson’s criminality by noting that the US government hasn’t extradited him to India, where he’s wanted – so it must be okay!
Stavropoulos’s attention to Bhopal was extraordinary, considering that the company insists it bears no responsibility, and considering that it has successfully repelled a shareholder resolution on the matter and faces no concrete threat. In essence, Stavropoulos stood there exclaiming “Out, damn spot!” before 2000 shareholders for a full ten minutes.
John noted afterwards that it was his impression Stavropoulos seemed to be addressing each of the points that “Jude Finisterra” had made as Dow representative in December. At first Andy and Mike were incredulous – but the attention to Anderson’s extradition did seem odd, come to think of it…. And if all the unprecedented security did have something to do with us, then why not this?
A series of shareholders stood up and made comments. Some talked about local dioxin contamination around Midland’s Titabawasee River. A representative from Amnesty International discussed Dow’s role in Bhopal as a human rights problem. And several other shareholder groups, including several groups of nuns, spoke on issues ranging from Genetically Modified crops to longterm contamination of Midland’s Tittibawassee river.
Then it was Andy’s turn at the microphone. He had written his name down on the speaker card as “Jude Finisterra,” which is what the usher called out. “Our next question is from Jude Finisterra, a proxy,” she said. “The topic is windfall profits.”
“Hello Bill, shareholders,” “Jude” said. “We made an incredible $1.35 billion this quarter. That’s really terrific. But you know, for most of us, that’ll just mean a new set of golf clubs. I for one would forego my golf clubs this year to do something useful instead – like finally cleaning up the Bhopal plant site, or funding the new clinic there. “Bill, will you use Dow’s first-quarter profits to finally clean up Bhopal?” Dow Chairman Bill Stavropoulos responded to “Finisterra’s” suggestion with a curt dismissal.
Then it was Mike’s turn. He struggled to the microphone in his neck brace. As soon as he opened his mouth, it was clear this guy was no Jude Finisterra!
“Great job on the profits! I applaud your efforts.” Mike started clapping. Eight times, while thousands sat silently watching. He finally gave up and resumed. “Great profits. Now I wanna see you use them to go after some of the creeps who are tarnishing Dow’s good name! I’m looking around and most of the questions are from people who don’t like Dow. Let’s do something about that. We need to get aggressive!
“Of course you cant exactly broadside a bunch of nuns (gesturing at the representatives of the nuns) with a twenty gun shoot, and you can’t just kick a disabled kid in the head, but at least you could take care of hooligans, like that guy who went on the TV news to announce that Dow was liquidating Union Carbide. That made a serious stock bounce, and I for one was freaked out! I’ll bet a lot of you were! So, Mr. Stavropoulos, what are you doing about that criminal?”
Stavropoulos said one brief sentence in response: “Well, if you could tell us who that guy is. Next question?”
Leaving the Midland Center for the Arts, we’re scrutinized by men on the roof with binoculars. Still not paranoid, we decide to go do some Dow tourism, and head over to the main Dow complex on Saginaw Road. We pull into one area and take pictures of a lovely sign.
Within seconds up pull four or five Dow security cars, followed by a supervisor. “We have the Yes Men in the Toyota,” one of them radios in. Soon the real police arrive, followed by one of the Dow “Public Affairs” men we’d seen at the Center for the Arts arrives. “What’s your policy?” one of the policemen asks the Public Affairs guy.
We briefly imagine we’re done for, but they let us go after checking us out. Perhaps they’ve had enough of a hassle for one day….

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