On October 17, 2006, the Boston Coalition for Justice in Bhopal made sure that MIT students attending a Dow recruiting session got the real story, not just Dow’s feel-good propaganda.
About 30 chemistry and chemical engineering doctoral candidates and post-docs were interested enough to come to the MIT recruiting session, but after learning about Dow’s crimes around the world, it’s doubtful that many will end up working there.
Aquene picks up the story:
Two of us postered MIT on Monday morning with mock “Human Element” posters to raise awareness about Bhopal and Dow’s other crimes against humanity in advance of the session. The chemical engineering folks removed a few of these signs but most remain up.
This morning I chalked all around where the event was to be held with body tracings, the death and poisoning counts from the back of the Bhopal T-shirt (i.e. Poisoned by Dow: Asbestos – 550, Bhopal – 150,000, Pesticide Poisoning Worldwide – Millions, etc.)
The chalkings got a lot of positive attention. Then we put up new full color posters of the Dow Human element campaign (which career services tore down almost completely).
We showed up 15 minutes before the session started and handed out information to everyone who came to the session. We were dressed professionally and our information was very nicely laid out so most people thought we were with Dow. (everyone took it except for people paid by career services). [We gave them the clinic brochure, the executive summary of the amnesty report and one of the mock Dow ads] We taped up the Amnesty “Zaki is Dead” posters (about more recent deaths in Bhopal) up on the walls outside of the session.
The chemical engineering career services people tried to get us to stop handing out information, then asked us to hand it out outside the room (I had gone in to make sure that everyone who attended got handouts). We agreed (and handed them out just outside the door of the room). They then tried to convince us to go away as this was a private event paid for by Dow and was really only open to chemical engineering grad students. We said we are MIT students and we have a right to be here and it was on the public calendar so it is clearly not only a chemical engineering event. The woman was flustered.
Then they sent a chemical engineering professor out to ask us questions and find out if we were MIT students or not. Since we were both MIT grad and post docs it seemed like a silly conversation. He may have been trying to intimidate us, who knows. They asked us again not to speak in the session. Then they said it was unfair for us to hand out information because people thought it was from Dow and we should explain at the beginning that this information is not from Dow. They then realized this was a horrible idea, as they were giving us a bully pulpit and decided to make the announcement themselves.
We came in right as the presentation was starting and sat in the very front so that they would have to make a scene to try to kick us out. The presentation started with the Human Element theme. I held a Bhopal poster on my lap so the people sitting behind me could see it. We had distributed questions in advance. We watched Dow’s powerpoint presentation where Dow claimed to be a sustainable and respectful company and laughed amongst ourselves, astonished at their shamelessness. The first presenter was a bit dopey, saying things like, “Dow will treat you like a real full time employee,” and “you can work within a continent or between the continents.” The first person’s presentation ended with a question session, but the career services folks quickly decided to keep all the questions for the end when they realized that we might derail the session before the presentation was even halfway over.
We patiently sat through the second session by Don Patrick on all their fun high throughout chemistry processes blah blah blah. The career services person decided to moderate the session to try to keep us from speaking since the Dow people had no way of knowing who we were and the career services people could pick us out (good thing we didn’t wear Bhopal T-shirts). Nonetheless, the Dow folks kept calling on us and overriding the career services person.
Roshan: You say that Dow is a company governed by principles of sustainability, yet you have not cleaned up Bhopal where 20,000 people are drinking poisoned water and Midland Michigan is contaminated with dioxin, how do you reconcile these things?
Dow guys: Well we don’t know that much about that stuff, but we know the people that work in Environment Health and Safety EH&S. They are very nice people, really honest people who really want to make things better. I know Dow is a good company and that they are responsible in taking care of issues like Bhopal (not verbatim). As for Michigan, everyone lives in Midland, the Dow CEOs live there.
An exchange ensued between them because the Dow guys really got caught up in defending the company.
The career services woman was really pissed and said ‘let’s move on and take another question’ (people in the room seemed to want this too). Unfortunately for her she happened to call on one of our people who had come in later and who she could not have recognized.
John: Speaking again of Bhopal, which is in my country, India, if you knew about the horrific case of the Bhopal Disaster and you are so sustainable, why did you buy Union Carbide in the first place?
Dow Guys: It was a good financial deal (in short)
A few other questions were then asked by people the career services person actually knew personally, but then, Oh no! The Dow guys try to take control again and make the mistake of calling on Aquene (a white person, must be safer) who asks: I want to come back to Michigan… are you saying that nearly 9,000 ppb of dioxin in some places is healthy to live in? Do the Dow CEOs live in the dioxin-contaminated areas? People can’t sell their homes…Are you telling me that Dow is doing its very best to clean up the mess? This has been a problem since 1986. Is there a place that new employees can live that is not dioxin contaminated?
Dow Guys: I don’t know where you are getting those numbers from. There have been position papers written looking at the dioxin issue.
Career Services Woman: I think that should be the end of our questions session. Thank you all so much for coming. If you have any further questions come up to the front and ask them. (Deciding to cut her losses by finishing 20 minutes early)
As soon as people start lining up to talk to the Dow guys, I start writing Dow facts on the Board about
– the manslaughter charges Dow isn’t facing, the number of deaths in Bhopal
– About the styrene accident in Delaware this past August and a similar accident in 1997 also from a tanker car – yet Dow says safety standards are getting better?
– About how Dow was convicted of not sharing key information on DBCP in 1983 by a jury and continued to poison people in Nicaragua with it through 1985 after a 1977 ban on the chemical, about Dursban in India, etc. etc.
Everyone who was waiting in line to talk to the Dow guys read this stuff.
Only 2 people left the information we handed out to them in the room, everyone else took it with them. We spoke to the Dow guys after the meeting and I gave Trespass Against Us to the more clueless guy, suggesting he read the 400 pages and then try to develop counter arguments. The more experienced guy asked us on the way out if we had ever asked Dow for these positions on these things. We laughed and said yes but they don’t want to talk to us. It was a good night!
We went out for dinner to celebrate!
• Keep a low profile – if they hadn’t been able to easily identify me I could have possibly spoken at the beginning of the session as I did the Tufts session over a year ago.
• Don’t sit together – it makes it easier for them to ID you
• Have some high profile people put up website information and other stuff in the room – if you have enough folks to also ask tough questions later. Nice to have bad activist/‘good-but-curious student’ roles.
• Do chalking around the building, and postering too – this rattles them in advance and gives you an advantage, but also better prepares them to thwart you.
• Do pre-write statements so that the few chances you get to say something are fact filled and on message.
• Take photos (if you can)