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Public Shareholder Activism

Back to Campaigns

Your state (and perhaps your city as well) manages a pension fund for public employees, and it may be invested in Dow. Your city or state treasury may be as well. Find out – and if so, make sure that they use their shares to support the Bhopal Shareholder Resolution.

Why Public Shareholder Activism? Before You Start
How it Makes a Difference The Campaign
Campaign Outline Resources


Why Public Shareholder Activism?

Shareholder Progress

Shareholder proposals can help change company policies that dictate how a company operates, whether or not they achieve final passage. For example, by using shareholder proposals, Amnesty International (in coalition with other investors) has been able to engage ExxonMobil in a dialogue about the company’s human rights obligations, moving them to publicly proclaim that they condemn human rights violations in any form and indicate their intent to uphold the core labor standards set forth by the International Labor Organization. Moreover, ExxonMobil began participating in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, something the company had earlier refused to do. In addition, Amnesty and coalition partners recently won two victories with ALLTEL and Carlisle regarding the adoption of sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, by using shareholder proposals.

If YOUR state or city manages investment funds that hold Dow shares, they have a decision to make. Every year since 2004, concerned shareholders have introduced a resolution calling on the company to explain how Bhopal is likely to affect Dow, its reputation, and its finances, and any plan that the company may have to address the concerns of the Bhopal survivors. As with every resolution, all shareholders have the opportunity to vote – in fact, they’re expected to do so, in line with their role as owners of the corporation. As with most votes, it’s a pretty simple choice: a yes or no judgment call. Unfortunately many shareholders choose not to consult their better judgment, preferring instead to vote as management recommends – and you’ve got three guesses as to what Dow recommends.

Public fund managers should come to an informed and independent decision about how to vote their shares, and you can help. It’s your tax dollars they’re investing, after all. Public fund managers are often susceptible to public pressure, especially if that pressure comes from constituents in their area. Remember: share voting is quick, easy, costs nothing, and they should be doing it anyway. A vote in favor of the Bhopal Shareholder’s Resolution isn’t only the right choice – it’s an easy one.

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How it Makes a Difference

City and state investment funds hold literally trillions of dollars in publicly traded stock. Obviously, such large shareholders can exert tremendous pressure over a company and the decisions it makes, and bringing that pressure to bear in favor of Bhopal offers us a tremendous opportunity. Although resolutions such as Bhopal rarely approach the 50% threshold required for passage, sizeable votes in favor can nevertheless be a terribly embarrassing rebuke for the company and inspire media scrutiny they’d prefer to avoid. Quite often, corporations will be prepared to negotiate – and even concede some or all of a resolution’s demands – in order to prevent a vote which may prove humiliating to the corporate management.

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Campaign Outline

Vision
The Bhopal Shareholder Resolution receives significant support from Dow shareholders, embarrassing the company and forcing it to address the survivors’ demands.

Goals
..........1. Raise awareness and educate the public about Bhopal through your efforts, building and strengthening your local coalition
..........2. Get a written response from the public fund promising a favorable vote on the Bhopal Resolution.
..........3. Convince the public fund to voice its concerns directly to the companies.
..........4. Persuade the public fund to join Amnesty’s coalition of responsible investors to publicly support and/or co-file on future proposals.

Strategies
..........1. Build a widespread coalition in support of your efforts
..........2. Educate the public and the public fund managers through media coverage, educational events, etc.

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Before You Start

Step One: Research
Before you start your campaign, there’s a few things that you’ll want to know:
..........1. Are any city or state funds invested in Dow? IF SO:
..........2. Who are the persons responsible for investments? Who makes decisions on how to vote for a shareholder proposal? Is it an elected body?
..........3. Have they voted on the Bhopal resolution in the past and if so, which way did they vote? Have they, or have they ever considered, filing or co-filing on a shareholder proposal?
..........4. What are their proxy voting guidelines, which direct their voting on shareholder proposals?

Since public investments are made up of tax dollars, information regarding their investments is public. Anyone can request this information by contacting them, preferably by a formal letter and a follow-up call. If that route proves difficult, there are many other avenues to obtain the information including city or state treasurers, elected officials, public employees, and open record requests.

It may very well be that public funds in your area have been past supporters of the Bhopal Shareholder’s Resolution – much of the resolution’s previous support has come from just such funds. If you find that they have voted in favor of the Bhopal resolution in the past, you can still ask them to take the next step and support the resolution as an active co-filer.

Step Two: Formulate Your Campaign
Now that you’ve had the chance to assess the information you’ve collected you should have a clear idea of the demands your campaign will focus on. Draft a statement outlining these demands, which will form the basis of your campaign.

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The Campaign

Now you’re ready to carry out a public campaign:

Step One: Educate Yourself
Make sure that your group is familiar with the issues surrounding Bhopal, and that you’re able to speak about them with confidence. This website and the Amnesty International report on Bhopal, Clouds of Injustice, are excellent places to start. Links to more detailed background information is available on our Resources page. You should also familiarize yourself with shareholder activism in general, and the Bhopal Shareholder Resolution in particular.

Step Two: Build a Coalition
Build a coalition in support of your campaign. Reach out to other organizations in your area – make sure that you’re not only talking to the “usual suspects” but that you’re also reaching out to a wide range of potential supporters, including your local Amnesty International chapter, community groups, Indian or Indian-American organizations, ecological or religious groups, NGOs etc. The networking possibilities are endless!

Step Three: Find a Champion
Identify an elected official or a member of the investment board that you think will be sympathetic toward your issue. This is essential. Without an official who will actually take ownership of the issue and make it his or her cause, it’ll be far more difficult for you to prevail. You can identify likely champions by asking your coalition partners for advice and investigating the background of these public officials.

Contact your champion. Once you arrange a meeting, try to organize as diverse a group as possible to represent your cause. By involving a wide range of coalition partners in the discussion, you demonstrate that your issue has community support. At the meeting, make a strong case for why the resolution is important. Most likely, the official will never have heard about Bhopal before, so you should come prepared with such background information as the Amnesty International report on Bhopal, Clouds of Injustice; the financial report Dow Chemical: Risks for Investors; and a Bhopal film such as Litigating Disaster which lays out the complicated legal issues in a brief and powerful way. Naturally, you should also bring a copy of the Bhopal Shareholder Resolution, and any brief informational sheets that might be useful. Although the official may agree right away – if so, great news! – it’s more likely that they’ll want some time to go over the information and consider it. Leave your contact information, but offer to call back in a week or two and see what they may have decided.

Step Four: Building Support
Chart the political landscape. When meeting with your champion, ask them to predict which members of their fellow members are likely to support or oppose voting for the Bhopal Shareholder Resolution, and what may be the best approaches to convincing them. They may invite you to make a presentation to the investment board, as an opportunity to present your case. Prepare by building public support for action:
..........• Make your campaign visible in your community and across your state. Plan educational events to spread the word and get more people involved.
..........• Draft a letter or petition outlining your demands, based on the response you receive. Address the letter to the person in charge of the investment board and/or proxy voting decisions. The more signatures you get for your letters and the more public attention you attract, the more powerful your campaign will be! As with your initial inquiry, be sure to attach any relevant information to your letter or petition when you deliver it.
..........Use the media to cover your story and draw attention to your campaign. Make the case that action is needed. Offer opinion pieces and letters to the editor to local newspapers.

Step Five: Assess Your Progress
If you’re having trouble receiving a response, continue pushing. Follow up with a call or visit if more than 2 weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard from them. If they refuse to answer all or some of your questions, ask them to reply in writing as to why they will not provide the information. Remember that a refusal is not a failure! It can be used effectively in your campaigning. Letters to the editor or op-eds in your local newspaper may also be an effective route if officials are turning a deaf ear.

..........• Assess the response you receive based on your demands. Consult with your coalition members about next steps.
..........• If you’re not satisfied with the response, plan a follow up letter, meeting and public actions if necessary. Publish the response in your local paper and other news outlets along with your new demands, if any.
..........• If the response is favorable, be sure to follow up with thanks. Make a public statement of appreciation in your local papers.

Remember that your campaign will constantly be evolving based on the progress you’re making, and how receptive or stubborn your targets may be. You may need to adapt your campaign demands based on the responses you receive.

REPEAT UNTIL YOUR GOALS ARE MET! Like all campaigns, yours might not be immediately successful, but perseverance will pay off!

Step Six: Share What You’ve Learned
Log in to the Amnesty SHARE POWER forum to learn about similar campaigns across the country and share what you’ve learned.

More Information
..........Amnesty International SHARE POWER campaign
..........• The Social Investment Forum (Advocacy and Policy Program)
..........On-line guidebook for shareholder activists produced by Friends of the Earth
..........SRI Endowment Coalition

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Resources

..........Survivor testimonials
..........• Amnesty International report: Clouds of Injustice
..........In-depth background information
..........• The financial report Dow Chemical: Risks for Investors
..........Handouts and fact sheets about Bhopal
..........Draft Media Advisory/Press Release
..........Bhopal Posters

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The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: April 30, 2008

WE ALL LIVE IN BHOPAL

"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal