In the spirit of academic openess, bhopal.net is here publishing the record of an extra ordinary meeting between faculty members of the Indian Institutes of Technology and representatives of Dow Chemical and Burson Marsteller, set up in the aftermath of agitations in IIT’s across India by both faculty and students against Dow recruitment and sponsorship due to its stance on Bhopal.
Dow did not want any record of the meeting to be made public. ed.
Date: 20th February 2008
Venue: IRCC Auditorium, IIT Bombay
Attendees: IITB faculty members (approx. 50)
Dr. Ramesh Ramachandran (CEO, DCIPL – Dow Chemicals
International Pvt. Ltd.)
Mr. Scott (Dow Chemical Company)
One other Dow representative
Moderators: Prof. D. B. Phatak, IIT Bombay
Mr. Ashwani Singla, Genesis Burson-Marsteller
Prof. Krithi introduced Dr. Ramesh Ramachandran (CEO, DCIPL) and the moderators Prof. Phatak and Mr. Ashwani Singla (Genesis
Burson-Marsteller, consultant for DCIPL).
In his opening remarks, Dr. Ramesh gave a brief background of the
company and of the products it makes. He was at Dow headquarters in
Midland, Texas before coming to India and mentioned that he was very
proud of working for Dow and for the products they make. He mentioned that Dow virtually touches every aspect of daily life through the products that one uses. He also stated that Dow is genuinely interested in collaborations with IITB and briefly mentioned the potential collaborative projects with IITB.
Dr. Ramesh added that Dow has been in India for 50 years, but there
has been a burst of expansion in the last 3-4 years. They have their
manufacturing facilities in India at Lote (Dow AgroSciences) and Kalwa
(near Mumbai). Their R&D facility in Pune has several IITB alumni as
well. Similarly, they have a large engineering centre in Chennai.
Dr. Ramesh emphasized that the Pune and Chennai facilities are not
really back-offices for labs elsewhere, but were actually doing work
that is not really being done elsewhere.
Dr. Ramesh mentioned that the reason why he came back to India was to grow Dow in India, and University interactions was an integral part of
their programme in India. Having been informed by Dean R&D of IIT
Bombay that there were some concerns of faculty regarding
collaboration, they said that they would be interested in having a
conversation about these. Hence the meeting.
Prof. Phatak explained the format of the discussion, and stressed that
the purpose is to have a dialogue between IITB faculty and Dow to better educate ourselves at the end of the day.
Mr. Ashwani (the second moderator) introduced himself as being from Genesis, and indicated that he was a consultant to Dow. He stressed that the main aim of the meeting was not to solve any problem, but to have a dialog and to hear and understand each other’s positions. Also, mentioned that this was a big step for a normally reticent company like Dow to attend this meeting to listen to concerns.
Prof. Phatak then opened the floor to the audience for questions and
Prof. Bhaskar pointed out that much of our concern is based on the
fact that Dow has in the past violated the laws of this country. He
asked what Dow’s position was with respect to the pending court cases
in India. He mentioned a criminal case pending against Dow in the
Bhopal High Court, a civil case related to the contamination issue and
also a CBI inquiry against Dow AgroSciences for having paid bribe to
Indian Govt. officials.
Dr. Ramesh clarified that he didn’t represent the legal department of
Dow and took exception to the way the cases where stated. He said that legalese are best answered by lawyers and he wouldn’t comment on them. He mentioned that since the occurrence of the Bhopal tragedy in 1984, there has been a lot of misinformation and it is important to give facts their due. He went on to state them …
– Dow has never owned or operated the facility in Bhopal
– The Supreme Court of India and Union Carbide reached
an agreement regarding the Bhopal disaster
– After the agreement, UCIL was sold off and Union Carbide left
India and stopped doing business in India
– Since, the original entity does not exist anymore and is not
related to/owned by Dow, the court cases do not apply to Dow
– Currently, the land is owned by the Madhya Pradesh Government and
Central Govt. of India.
– Regarding the Dow AgroSciences bribery case, he mentioned that in a
large company, there are cases of employees doing things that the
company is not always proud of. Dow proactively found out about the
case, proactively disclosed it, and took disciplinary action against
the concerned person.
Further. Dr. Ramesh added that there are very good reasons why people like him work for a Dow. He added that it was not the case that such people were working for Dow due to lack of other options.
Prof. Om Damani observed that Dow’s washing off its liabilities in
Bhopal did not look correct. He pointed out that when Dow bought Union Carbide, along with Union Carbide’s assets, its pending liabilities, including those related to contamination in Bhopal must have been taken over by Dow. He mentioned that Dow has been forced to assume liabilities of Union Carbide in several cases in the West. Then why was that only when it comes to cases in India (the Bhopal case), Dow was trying to wash its hands clear of the liabilities? He also quoted material from Dow’s website and from SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission of USA) website to corroborate his comments, and asked for clarifications on the same.
Mr. Ashwani responded by saying that there seemed to be some confusion about Union Carbide India Limited and Union Carbide Corporation, and that these were distinct.
Dr. Ramesh referred to Dow’s website for differences between all the
named entities. He gave an analogy of buying a flat where a tragedy
might have occurred 3-6 owners back. Why should it then be that the
current owner must have liability for the past tragedy when there was
no responsibility? He pointed out that the Supreme Court of India had
said that the case was resolved.
Prof. Phatak pointed out that although the Supreme Court of India had
initially said that all civil and criminal cases were resolved, it later clarified that not all criminal cases were resolved. These
cases are still pending.
Mr. Ashwani asked Mr. Scott to clarify on this issue at this point.
Mr. Scott (from Dow) added that the a $470 million settlement was
reached shortly after the tragedy. Several people and organizations,
however, felt that the settlement was not appropriate. The criminal
case is ongoing even today. The Indian Govt. tried to extradite
Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, and several others in
the management of Union Carbide have been summoned in these cases.
However, the US Govt. had refused to hand Warren Anderson over to
India. After the settlement, Union Carbide Corporation sold its shares in Union Carbide India Limited to McLeod Russell, which subsequently renamed the company as Eveready. The proceeds of the settlement went towards building a hospital, etc. in Bhopal. After that settlement, Union Carbide left India and never did any further business in India. Seventeen years later, Dow Chemical Company acquired Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). Today, UCC is a subsidiary of Dow. It is a separate company with its own Board of Directors managing its own liabilities, but after profits and losses, the proceeds go to the parent company, i.e. Dow. Union Carbide remains a separate company today and Dow owns all shares of UCC, but does not manage any of the liabilities of UCC. UCC manages these liabilities.
Prof. Sharmila pointed out even before Dow acquired UCC there was
documented evidence of contamination in the Bhopal facility. However,
Dow has gone on record saying that during the take over there were no
UCC liabilities. How could they explain this discrepancy? She clarified that it was not just a case of talking about legality, but
equally important was talking about accountability.
Dr. Ramesh said that when a court case is going on, it is not possible
to isolate legality from accountability. Dr. Ramesh added that Dow
Chemicals and its employees live in communities where these chemicals
are being made. Remarked that some of the characterizations about
lack of concern for contamination are foreign to people like him. He
said that had Dow not been concerned about these issues, it would not
have been welcome as a corporate citizen in so many communities around the world. He reminded everybody and emphasized that Dow is a great company.
Prof. Phatak asked that if one forgets about legality, did Dow not
have the willingness and expertise to clean up the contamination? He
inquired about various community level activities that Dow has done to
show that it’s a socially and environmentally conscious company.
Dr. Ramesh responded by saying that everybody would like to see the
site in Bhopal remediated. He pointed out that over the last 3 years,
there were two occasions when experts with enough expertise were ready to remediate the site. However, they were stopped. He questioned the genuineness of the audience’s concern, and asked where its passion was when these remediations were being attempted. He said that technology and money were not constraints, but activists and some set of people were stopping remediation. Dr. Ramesh then went on to state about some projects where Dow has undertaken community activities, building schools, playgrounds, community centres, spending millions of dollars. He specifically mentioned about two projects, one in Saskatchewan, and the other in Midland.
Prof. Phatak raised the point of environmental consciousness, and
asked how much Dow was doing in this respect.
Dr. Ramesh mentioned about the Blue Planet project, where Dow’s
commitment was above a million dollars. He also mentioned about the
Berkeley Sustainability Project. He then asked Mr. Scott to speak
about additional activities of Dow on environmental issues.
Mr. Scott mentioned about a project in Brazil, where ethanol and
polyethylene is being produced from sugarcane. Dr. Ramesh added that
this was probably the largest production of polyethylene from
sugarcane in the world.
Prof. Ravi Raghunathan commented that Dr. Ramesh’s explanations were very strong in rhetoric when he mentioned about communities that had benefited from Dow’s involvement. He pointed out that others might have different points of view because of the plight of communities in
and around Bhopal. He wanted to know what percentage of Dow’s profits were being spent on environment related issues. He also pointed out that converting sugarcane to ethylene is not necessarily an environmentally or socially friendly thing to do. He referred to the Pachauri report, that has questioned such activities. Prof. Ravi also asked whether Dr. Ramesh felt proud about silicone breast implants, which caused so many individuals to suffer unknowingly.
Dr. Ramesh responded by saying that Dow is a for-profit company. He
said that we could look at Dow’s Sustainability Report, and find what
kind of dramatic reductions could be achieved in terms of energy
usage by Dow. He did not quantify the percentage of profits that Dow
was spending on environmental issues. Instead, he said that an
alternative indicator was what kind of energy Dow was being used to
make its products.
In response to Prof. Ravi’s comment, Dr. Ramesh said that he had not
seen the Pachauri report, but he believed that Dow’s polyethylene
production from sugarcane in Brazil generated far less greenhouse
gases. He also said that his understanding was that the farmers and
sugarcane producers in Brazil have welcomed the project. Regarding
silicone breast implants, he mentioned that the use of silicone
implants is scientifically approved today. He said that this product
was voluntarily used and was not imposed. He reiterated that he was
very proud of all of these products and all that his company does.
Prof. Shishir Jha wanted to know what would be offered concretely by
Dow to remediate the contamination as part of “Polluter Pays”
Dr. Ramesh responded that as far as remediation is concerned,
activists had come in the way when some people wanted to remediate the site.
Prof. Shishir Jha clarified that the offer of remediation was actually
not made by Dow, but by the Chairman of the India US CEO Forum, and
this was part of an effort to help attract investment from US in India
(as part of the 123 Agreement). He wanted to know what Dow Chemical was doing about it.
Dr. Ramesh said that as long as the court cases were ongoing, Dow
Chemicals’ hands are tied as far as the remediation is concerned.
Prof. Om Damani said that the reason why such remediation efforts were stopped earlier is the fear of patchwork remediation by somebody who is not really related to or accountable in the cleanup work. Therefore the focus can shift from the real party which should be
accountable to some other person/body.
Mr. Ashwani commented using words like “criminal” would be an
incorrect way to characterize anybody. He said that the purpose of
the dialogue was to hear each other, but not to find a solution.
Prof. Phatak clarified that as intelligent individuals, if we feel
that a criminal activity has happened, then it is useful to state the
position outright. He asked whether there was any thought process or
background preparation within Dow regarding what to do about the
contamination if the litigation is withdrawn tomorrow. Otherwise, the
current stand could be interpreted as Dow using the ongoing
litigation to avoid doing any preparation. He offered his apologies
that this might sound like a harsh statement, but clarified that this
was an important question to ask.
Dr. Ramesh said that this was a difficult question to answer in
business. He said that he lives in the current world, and the
litigation is not going away today. Prof. Phatak summarized the
response as: if the litigation were to stop today, Dow doesn’t have a
concrete plan for remediation. At the same time, Dow doesn’t appear
compelled to make a concrete plan as long as the litigation goes on.
Prof. Supratik made a couple of observations: (i) The mention that
activists were responsible for stopping possible clean-up of the
Bhopal site is misleading and side-steps reality. (ii) Also, asking
“where was the passion” when there was a possibility of cleanup by
entities other than Dow is inappropriate, without even knowing what
different people’s involvement might have been. He then asked why, in
an academic institution, where students are an integral part of
everything (including research), were students (at least Ph.D. students) not allowed to be part of this meeting?
Mr. Ashwani stated that this was a first step and they would be happy
to have a conversation with everyone, to build a partnership.
Prof. Phatak re-iterated the original question and asked whether Dow
was open to subsequent meetings in which students would be present.
Dr. Ramesh clarified that disrespecting the institute was not their
intent. As far as students in the discussion are concerned, they have
tried to have them in some Universities, but their experience was that
the discussion gets very emotional and counter-productive and its gets
difficult to discuss facts.
Prof. Manjunath indicated that the two versions stated by Dow seemed
to be confusing: (i) This being a first meeting, Dow wanted to meet up
with faculty only, and subsequent discussions with students was ok
(ii) Based on prior experience, Dow preferred this format and not
involvement of students.
Prof. Phatak mentioned that in a negotiation, it is very difficult to
point out who initiated what, but mentioned that as part of the
format, Dow was keen not to have non-faculty members for the meeting. He also clarified that this need not be the only occasion for dialog, but there can be subsequent occasions for further discussion as well.
Prof. Sameer expressed his displeasure at only Dow being questioned.
He mentioned that IITB itself poured all kinds of chemicals down the
drain. Prof. Phatak acknowledged this point as important, but
reiterated that the purpose of this meeting was to get clarifications from Dow.
Prof. Khanna expressed his displeasure about the discussion. He
stated that the discussion thus far and even before (presumably on the
discuss-faculty list) had been about the Union Carbide accident in
Bhopal. He added that in the process, we were forgetting the main
issue of R&D ties between Dow and IITB. He asked if it was ok for Dow
to work with IITB if we put aside the Bhopal issue. He also said that
according to him, only a few faculty had raised the Bhopal issue, and
that it would be improper to give an impression that most faculty have
concerns about Dow.
Dr. Phatak clarified that it was a fact that the majority of faculty
members who cared to express their opinions on the faculty mailing
list were concerned about the matter, and that even Dow representatives were aware of this picture. He said that the reason
the Bhopal issue comes back again and again is because a terrible
thing had happened, and it has occupied the minds of a large number of
Prof. Bhaskar mentioned about an unpublished Union Carbide Corporation funded toxicity research on Methyl IsoCyanate at the Carnegie Mellon University. He indicated that despite multiple requests by survivor groups for release of this information, this has not been given. He added that this information could have helped save thousands of lives over the last 20 years (approx 1 person/day). Currently, this information was apparently with UCC (100% subsidiary of Dow). He asked if this information could be immediately released to avoid/reduce further casualties? He also clarified that Dow has never categorically denied the existence of this information.
Dr. Ramesh & Mr. Scott responded by saying that they were not familiar
with this report/study. Dr. Ramesh said that they can go back and try
to find out details. Prof. Bhaskar requested a time-line to be given
for getting back with details of the report or denying the existence
of such a report. Mr. Scott stated that he could check but could not
commit to a time-line.
Prof. Bhaskar wished to put on record that his friend from ICJB
(International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal) has already had several
rounds of discussion with the former CEO of DCIPL regarding the
toxicity study report. But nothing had come out of it thus far.
All Dow representatives denied knowledge of any such
discussions/interactions. When Prof. Bhaskar subsequently mentioned
that the name of the person with whom communication happened was
Mr. Muthukrishnan, Dr. Ramesh said that Mr. Muthukrishnan was the CEO 7 years back. He couldn’t comment on communication between ICJB and Mr. Muthukrishnan.
Prof. Phatak appreciated the need to look into the toxicity study
report if it existed. He also added that in an academic institution
even if a single colleague raises an issue which is important, it must
be considered and answers sought through discussions and meetings.
Prof. Anand Rao made an observation that several questions have been
side-stepped saying that there is no representative from Dow’s legal
department. He wanted to know that if in subsequent meetings someone from the legal team would be present to answer such questions.
Mr. Ashwani clarified that as long as the matter is in the court, no
position could be taken. Given their constraints of working in a
corporate environment there might be questions for which they cannot
give answers. He mentioned that he had no idea of the toxicity study
Prof. Phatak requested Dr. Ramesh to give some thought on whether
questions that overlapped with legal aspects could be clarified and
some useful/helpful information be provided to the community in the
Prof. Om said that he was confused about the comments being made about legalities and cleanup of Bhopal. He pointed out that the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers had explicitly asked Dow to deposit Rs. 100 crores as an initial amount for cleanup in Bhopal, and that Govt. of India has submitted to M.P. court and N.Y. court that they want UCC (the 100% subsidiary of Dow) to pay for cleanup. He was therefore unsure about the legal obstacle, since the govt. was explicitly asking money for the cleanup.
Prof. Phatak suggested that since Dow’s representatives present in the
meeting were not aware of this, it would be good to pass on the papers
to them. He requested Dow representatives to get back to IITB faculty
Prof. Om further observed that while several points were being made
about Union Carbide’s (and not Dow’s) liabilities, there were several
issues where Dow was directly involved, starting from Agent Orange to Dursban in India. He mentioned that while Dr. Ramesh indicated that the use of silicone breast implants was voluntary, people were actually misled by advertisements. He also expressed concern about the history of Dow’s dealings and cited the Dursban case. In 1994, a settlement was reached regarding the safety and advertisements of Dow in this regard. Dow paid US$ 2 million fine in 2003 for advertising Dursban as “safe”. The same Dow then bribed Indian officials about the same Dursban. He reiterated that the concern was not just about Union Carbide, but about the practices of Dow as well.
Prof. Om also pointed out that while the good life in Midland (Dow’s
headquarters) resulting from Dow’s involvement was being emphasized by Dr. Ramesh, there is a Jan 2008 statement by EPA (Environment Protection Agency of US) stating that EPA had to go to the extent of
stopping negotiations with Dow for cleanup operations in a case of
polluting a river 50 miles upstream of Dow’s factory in Midland. Prof. Om remarked that such instances of violations of law by Dow even in the US make us really worried about what might happen in India.
Prof. Phatak requested Prof. Om and Prof. Shishir to compile the sources and websites for relevant information. These could then be sent to Dow for further clarification and feedback. Dow representatives agreed to this.
Mr. Scott asked everybody to take a look at Dow’s website to read
Dow’s position on several of these issues.
(Dr. Ramesh had a flight to catch, and so he wanted to take leave).
Dr. Ramesh thanked everybody before leaving for the opportunity to
have the discussion. He reiterated that the prime reason for them to
be here (in India) was to grow the company. Dow’s interest to work
with the Chemical Engg. and Chemistry dept. at IITB is due to the
respect for the intellect, and they hope to do research and solve
problems (some could be those raised in this meeting today).
Dr. Ramesh added that at the end of the day, all of the audience were
potential Dow customers, and that it was important to understand what
the company stood for. He expressed hope that we can keep the
conversation going, and also added that we have to calibrate such
activities against what he was being paid to do, i.e. grow Dow’s
interest in India.
Dr. Phatak indicated that a few more points could be raised, which
Mr. Ashwani could take back to Dow.
Mr. Ashwani agreed to this and clarified that Dow was only one of his
clients. He said that he might not be able to answer all questions on
behalf of Dow.
Dr. Phatak then read out three questions regarding R&D (from the list
of questions submitted to Dow) that had not been discussed thus far:
(i) what are the common areas of interest.
(ii) what are benefits for both parties and
(iii) how IITB & Dow can help with the situation in Bhopal clean up? Importantly, we would like to know why the interaction with Dow would be helpful to us? Further, would Dow be specifically interested in setting up R&D projects that will help society in general?
Prof. Ravi observed that Dow’s stand didn’t seem to fit well the
academic spirit of openness. They didn’t want students in the
meeting, nor wanted the meeting to be recorded, and didn’t want to
address certain questions like “what if the litigation was removed?”
because they are considered “hypothetical” He suggested that IITB
should re-look at whether we should have such discussions.
Prof. Phatak clarified that he had agreed to the format of the
discussion to get the dialogue initiated. He clarified that it was clear that this meeting was going to be centered around Bhopal, and
when such meetings are recorded and broadcast, it is always possible
to quote portions out of context. Further, Dow had an internal legal
imposition that they will not permit any recordings of their meetings. In the interests of initiating a dialogue, these conditions were agreed upon by IITB. He mentioned that Mr. Ashwani had earlier indicated that there was no reason for minuting the meeting. However, when Prof. Phatak clarified that there was an obligation to describe the happenings in the meeting to the large audience and to those who could not attend, Mr. Ashwani agreed.
Prof. Phatak then rose to make the concluding remarks. He thanked
everybody for participating and said that Dow had clearly heard the
concerns of faculty, and requested Dow to address them considering the sensitivity and passion of the people asking them. He requested Dow to come back with any possible feedback and specific clarifications. Dr. Phatak requested those who had asked questions to send him their questions, answers and their interpretations of the answers, so that the final summary could be prepared. He concluded by saying that there will be/can be more engagements and discussions with Dow in the future.
The meeting concluded with Prof. Om and Prof. Bhaskar thanking
Prof. Krithi, Prof. Kurien, Prof. Phatak and the Dean R&D’s office for
arranging the meeting and giving the faculty an opportunity to
interact with Dow in this manner.