Whitney Mitchell, Indiana Daily Student, November 3, 2006
Vidhya Ranganathan, a member of the Bloomington chapter of the Association for India’s Development, stands in protest of Dow Chemicals outside the IU Auditorium during the Life Sciences Career Fair Thursday. Photo: Sarah Markley • IDS
Students from the Association for India’s Development, donning poster board signs depicting graphic images of chemical explosions and dead babies, spent four hours handing out fliers and protesting outside the Life Sciences Career Fair Thursday against Dow Corning Silicones, a company recruiting at the fair.
“Dow Chemicals is responsible for the most heinous crimes against Indian people by a corporation,” said Ph.D. student Yogesh Simmhan, former president of the Bloomington chapter of the Association for India’s Development. “They have complete disregard for human health and a history of complete negligence.”
A 1984 accident at the Union Carbide chemical plant, now owned by Dow Chemical, in Bhopal, India, released toxic gases into the air killing thousands of people, graduate student and Association for India’s Development activist Harini Gopalakrishnan said. More than 150,000 people have suffered extensive mental and physical disabilities as a result of the accident.
In 1984, 3,000 people in Bohpal suffered immediate death after a chemical leak occurred at the Union Carbide factory, which has since been purchased by Dow Chemical. More than 50,000 people are said to have permanent disabilities as a result of the accident, according to a 2004 article on the BBC’s Web site.
In a negligence case in the 1990s, Dow Chemical settled for $3.2 billion in a class action lawsuit filed by women who claimed the silicone breast implants they had were made by Dow Chemical and caused multiple health problems, Gopalakrishnan said.
“You still have children today being born with physical anomalies and people that are still breathing toxic air drinking toxic water because Dow will not clean up the site (in India),” she said. “We are protesting to try to inform students. We want them to see the darker side of the company. We want the University to set a standard for the kind of companies they bring on campus.”
Dow Corning Silicones is not directly affiliated with Dow Chemical but holds 50 percent of its stock, Dow Corning representative K. Shawn McClarnon said. “We are very independent, we aren’t a division and we don’t report to Dow Chemical,” he said. “Dow Corning doesn’t have any more influence on Dow Chemical than another company would, and they are protesting the wrong company.”
AID students disagreed with this statement.
“The problem is, Dow Corning says they aren’t affiliated with Dow, but they hold 50 percent of their stock,” Simmhan said. “If something happened to Dow their company would be half of what it is today, so it is not accurate for Dow Corning to say they aren’t associated with them.”
Association for India’s Development activists distributed fliers about Dow Chemical to students to inform them of the Bhapal chemical disaster and Dow’s company history. They also asked students to sign a pledge vowing not to work for Dow until the company took responsibility for the Bhopal accident. Throughout the course of the day the group recorded more than 90 signatures.
“At first I didn’t think I’d sign it because Dow is a huge company and you never know who you’ll end up working for, but then I thought about it, and I don’t want to work for a company with these sort of ethical problems,” graduate student and attendee of the fair Michelle Wynn said.
McClarnon said he didn’t think the protest would affect Dow Corning’s success at the career fair.
“The story they’re telling people is really inaccurate,” McClarnon said. “We have had a good track record recruiting at Indiana and are going to continue. What happened in India 20 years ago is a tragedy, and we are probably just as sorry about it as those people out there protesting.”