Monday, May 08, 2006

Shareholders challenge Dow's "See No Bhopal, Hear No Bhopal, Speak No Bhopal" Policy

On Thursday, at the next Dow Chemical Co. shareholders meeting, there should be enough rustling of papers and clearing of throats to keep at least a few of the participants from dozing off.

The commotion will mark Dow's latest go at Bhopal bingo.

Bhopal? Anyone? Anyone?

There are happier topics within Dow Nation.

Minor league baseball, for one. Up in Midland, Mich. (Company HQ) Dow and its charitable tentacle are helping create a minor league baseball team and stadium to bring back the halcyon days of pre-global-economy Americana, when Mom & Dad & Buddy & Sis could take lawn chairs down to the ballyard to catch a game, eat hot dogs and razz the visiting team -- all without any fear of getting shot or gang raped!

Now it's Dow getting the razzing, from the social conscience types who insist Dow should do something, anything about the world's largest chemical disaster that, sure, occurred under the aegis of Union Carbide, but which now sits in the corporate lap of Dow, which gobbled up Union Carbide post-Bhopal.

Who, me? says Dow in its best corporate impersonation of Mad Magazine coverboy Alfred E. Neuman.

Yeah, you, say a not-small group of shareholders that believe Dow's reputation and business in India are threatened by the company's refusal to address the needs of those who survived the poison gas disaster.

Twenty-two years after the accident, the shareholders group will present a resolution calling for Dow to take new intitiatives.

The shareholders who filed the resolution represent 4.5 million shares (current value: $186 million), and include the New York City Fire Department (NYCFD) Pension Fund, New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF), Boston Common Asset Management, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Dominican Sisters: Grand Rapids, Sisters of Holy Cross and Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit Charitable Trust.

Background: On Dec. 2, 1984, 27 tons of poisonous gas including methyl isocyanate leaked from a storage tank at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, and took the lives of more than 7,000 people within a matter of days -- the worst chemical disaster in history. Union Carbide is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. Today the exposure to toxins has resulted in additional deaths of 15,000 people as well as chronic illness for over 100,000 more.

Dow insists it has no responsibility to do anything about Bhopal because it didn't own Union Carbide when the disaster occurred.

Some of the company's shareholders disagree.

If for nothing else but the bad PR.

"Boston Common Asset Management has been pushing Dow Chemical for more than three years to address the clean up and medical concerns of the Bhopal survivors and Dow has still not stepped up to the plate while the risks to the company’s reputation and to its ability to do business in India may be increasing," said Lauren Compere, Director of Shareholder Advocacy.

"The Bhopal tragedy is still taking an awful toll on the people of India. The longer Dow Chemical fails to address the lingering human issues related to the Bhopal tragedy, the greater the potential negative impact to its long-term profitability. As a fiduciary, I am concerned that if Dow does not put this problem to rest, it could hurt the company's current and future business relationships in India's huge and rapidly expanding market and around the world," said New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, sole trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

Neil Sardana, a representative from AIUSA's Corporate Action Network, who will present the Bhopal resolution at the annual meeting said, "Dow has an obligation to address the ongoing environmental and human rights impacts of the UCC disaster; we will not rest until this happens."

As shareholders meet in Midland, Mich., at the Dow Center to cast a final vote on the Bhopal resolution on the 2006 Proxy Ballot, shareholder proponents believe that if this issue remains unresolved it may undermine future growth of Dow Chemical business in Asia.

Recently India’s Prime Minister agreed to demands to remedy the contamination and to provide water to the Bhopal survivors community. He also said he would explore whatever options existed within the law to hold UCC/Dow Chemical accountable.

Prediction: Expect Dow bigwigs to say something at the meeting about "fiduciary responsibility" and "shareholder value."

1 comment:

Corey said...

Well, I think I just found a reason to vote my Dow shares.