In the cold morning of Feb 28th 2007, outside the RCA dome in downtown Indianapolis, a group of people from Association for India’s Development (AID) and Amnesty International held a protest against Mr. Andrew Liveris, CEO of DOW Chemicals, speaking at the 61st Conference for Energy and Environment.The conference hosted by the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, was attended by over 1000 people including students and executives from various major corporations. The protestors held a banner “DOW clean up or shut up! Justice for Bhopal” which captures the irony of the CEO of Dow Chemicals, a company with a record of tarnishing the environment, preaching about energy and environment.
Since 2001, Dow Chemicals fully owns Union Carbide, which was responsible got the Bhopal gas tragedy in India. This gas leak caused by the total failure of the plant’s safety systems killed over 22,000 people and left behind an accident site where, even today, hundreds of thousands of people are being exposed to toxic wastes. The banner and posters held by the protestors attracted the attention of the conference attendees and several by-passers. The protestors also distributed flyers and spoke to several pedestrians about the Bhopal disaster and Dow chemicals’ involvement. Earlier in the month, representatives from AID and Amnesty International had expressed their concerns to the Dean of Kelly School of Business which had lead to invitations for the two groups to attend the conference and question Mr. Liveris directly.
Three members from AID and Amnesty were present inside the conference venue and made use of the Question & Answer session to ask Mr. Liveris about their role in Bhopal. Ms. Harini Gopalakrishnan, the spokesperson for AID and graduate student at Indiana University, described the plight of the 200,000 Bhopal victims in her question and asked if Dow will take any steps to shed its apathy. “[B]eing the CEO of the largest chemical company in the world and also the parent company of Union Carbide, I would like to know, what you would like to do about this (Bhopal) in the future”, Ms. Gopalakrishnan wanted to know. Mr. Liveris, calling it a tough question, declined all responibility on Dow Chemical for the disaster. “Union Carbide settled with the government of India, and the state Government of Madhya Pradesh, for four seventy million dollars in 1989….. it is really not the DOW chemical company’s responsibility at all”.
Mr. Tom Benner from Amnesty International countered Dow’s position with a follow-up question referring Amnesty’s 2002 report on the Bhopal disaster. Mr. Benner asked Mr. Liveris, “… [e]veryone here understands that when you purchase a company, you acquire all its assets, but also it liabilities. You talked about sending four seventy million dollars to the government of India. But with all due respect, I don’t think that’s sufficient. When I was a child, my parents taught me that when I made a mess, it was my job, my responsibility, to clean it up. Shouldn’t the same thing apply to corporations as well?”. Mr. Liveris was clearly irritated by the question and tersely reiterated his earlier position taking cover behind the limited settlement arrived at in the Indian courts. He added, “the settlement was justified and … by the Supreme Court of India. So, I will again urge you to get on a flight to New Delhi, and ask exactly that question to the Government of India, who has access to four seventy million dollars from 1989.”. He failed to mention that the settlementwas only for the current victims of the disaster in 1989 and did not cover the cleanup of the accident site or the fallout of the toxic pollutants in the site on the health of thousands living in the Bhopal community.
Finally, Giri Krishnan, president of AID and graduate student at Indiana University, confronted Mr. Liveris on their using the law to justify their compensation yet not appearing in the Indian courts to face criminal charges. Mr. Krishnan said, “In 1991, the Supreme Court of India has reacted against Union Carbide ‘culpable homicide’ against the Union Carbide industry and Union carbide is right now, a fully subsidiary of DOW, and it has not shown up in the courts of India”, and went on to ask if Dow would put any pressure on Union Carbide to face trial and provide justice to the affected people. before Mr. Liveris could address their criminal liability, the moderator of the conference intervened saying the most people in the audience did not take the environmental issues raised on Bhopal seriously and that we move on to other questions. This was met with applause from the audience, which seemed to reflect the futility of tying environmental responsibility with business.
Despite Mr. Liveris failng to adequately answer the questions and the disinterest of the audience to environmental issues that were poisoning people in developing countries, the protest served to highlight to continued negligence of Dow Chemical to the Bhopal victims. The protestors attested that they would continue to fight for justice for the Bhopal victims and their actions against Dow would endure till the victims are rehabilitated.
Listen to the Q & A session:
Question & Answer #1 (Ms. Gopalakrishnan and Mr. Liveris)
Question & Answer #2 (Mr. Benner and Mr. Liveris)
Question & Answer #3 (Mr. Krishnan and moderator)