Thursday, December 15, 2005
BY MARY MORGAN
A mere twelve days after a surprise visit by the activist group Students for Bhopal caused Dow Chairman William Stavropoulos “great consternation,” he has decided to step down.
In a press release dated December 13, 2005, The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW) announced that William S. Stavropoulos will retire as chairman of the board, effective April 1, 2006. Dow’s Board of Directors has elected Andrew N. Liveris, president and chief executive officer (CEO), to succeed Stavropoulos as chairman upon his retirement. Liveris will retain his role as president and CEO.
Dissatisfied with the cleanup of a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India that occurred 21 years ago, several members of “Students for Bhopal,” an activist group, confronted Stavropoulos outside his Midland, Michigan, home on December 1st.
Dow spokesman Scot Wheeler said the small group arrived at the Stavropoulos home, posted a sign, took a photograph, then left. The students were at the home for about 10 minutes.
“The victims of Bhopal have been waiting for two decades,” said Ryan Bodanyi, the Coordinator of Students for Bhopal. “The fact that Dow-Carbide has not acted to stop the ongoing contamination of tens of thousands – for which it is responsible – is inhumane, unjust, and immoral.”
The gas disaster at the Union Carbide India Limited plant on Dec. 2 and 3, 1984, occurred when methyl isocyanate poured out of a tank and spread into the nearby area by wind, killing 4,000 people and affecting 400,000 others, by some estimates. Dow says the disaster was legally resolved by Union Carbide in a $470 million settlement that was placed in a trust fund for the Bhopal victims.
“We certainly don’t think that anybody should forget the tragedy,” Dow spokesman Scot Wheeler said. “But legally the matter was settled … absolutely.”
Wheeler added that the protestors’ actions were “pushing the limits” and were obviously intended to intimidate Stavropoulos. “It certainly caused him great consternation,” he said. “He was frightened – that’s why he called the police.”
Midland Police Capt. Bob Lane said officers conducted a traffic stop on the vehicles the students were in after they left the home. There were no arrests, and no one was ticketed.
Wheeler denied the protest had hastened Stavropoulos’ retirement. “These plans were made a long time ago,” he said. “The timing of the announcement was a coincidence.”
Bodanyi disagreed. “Stavropoulos was scared, yes,” he said. “Scared of his conscience. We only wanted to talk.”
He claimed Stavropoulos grew frightened, then urinated. “Maybe he was ashamed,” Bodanyi said. “He is getting old,” he added.
Students for Bhopal first confronted Dow executives in 2002, appearing outside the home of Dow CEO Michael Parker on the disaster’s anniversary, December 3rd. Nine days later, Parker was sacked and William Stavropoulos, then company chairman, replaced him.
Dow cited “disappointing financial performance,” adding that “no concern of impropriety” was reflected in the board’s decision.
However Bodanyi claimed credit for Parker’s dismissal. “He was having a party on the anniversary of a chemical holocaust,” he said. “Because we caught him he was fired.” Video footage of the incident was later posted on the Greenpeace website.
Dow Spokesman Scot Wheeler did not dispute the video’s contents, but said it played no role in the company’s decision.
“The board reached its decision solely in light of the disappointing financial performance of the company under Mr. Parker’s tenure,” he said, adding that, “Dow is now the leader in its industry. Our revenues last year exceeded $40 billion, and our profits last quarter were up 30%.”
Dow Chemical shares were little changed yesterday, trading down 7 cents to close at $45.03 on the New York Stock Exchange. The 52-week high for Dow shares is $56.75.