Express Buzz – Dow row: Legitimising corporate irresponsibility
In the mad rush to pick sponsors for cultural festivals from among the long line-up of corporate brands, are we consciously letting ethical considerations, that may force us to say no to enticing monetary offers, take a backseat? Yes, if the Rs 5 lakh accepted by College of Engineering, Guindy, (CEG) from Dow Chemicals for its Kurukshetra Techfest is any indication.
Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow, was responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy o f 1984. It is also no secret that Union Carbide has since been absconding from law. When Dow Chemicals acquired Union Carbide in 2001, they bought with it the assets as well as the liabilities and the responsibility to clean up the mess in Bhopal.
Yet, CEG did not even allow an open debate on the subject. When approached by Students for Bhopal, a chapter of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, CEG dean Dr M Sekar said: “We are an academic institution and have collaborations with all kinds of industry. We can’t be concerned with what happens outside in society.” Vice Chancellor Mannar Jawahar said: “We have been associated with Dow for the past four years and some of our alumni work there. The State government or the Central government has not banned Dow, so this is not illegal.” Apart from the CEG alumni writing to the institute to return the money, over 500 students from IIT, Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering and SRM University sent a petition to Kurukshetra’s organisers stating that they would boycott the event if it does not disassociate itself with Dow.
According to Kaushik Subramanian, a second year mechanical engineering student at SRM University, “Awareness is the problem. Once the students are aware they will make the right choice.
We have been in correspondence with the organisers of Kurukshetra since October, 2009. Initially they had no idea about Dow and its infamous history in India. They were shocked to know about it. But even now, they are scared to move ahead because of losing placement opportunities with Dow.
If more students are aware and the issue put to debate among students, they will be enlightened enough to take a stand against unethical corporate behaviour.” Dow’s monetary association should not stop CEG from reconsidering an issue of such ethical magnitude. But that does not imply that lesser known student fests don’t allow similar lapses. The bigger issue here is not whether Kurukshetra should have a tie-up with Dow or not, but that the student community at large should make and be allowed to make a conscious effort to avoid legitimising obstinate corporate irresponsibility.
If we are barred from separating the truth from all the ‘facts’ available and can’t make ethical decisions today, we will continue to add to the mountain of corporate blunders tomorrow.