At a special shareholder meeting, prior to the proposed merger between Dow Chemical and DuPont, campaigners were intending to raise the fact that Dow has omitted crucial information, concerning Bhopal related liabilities, from its proxy material. As previously reported on our website CLICK
Claire Curran, Ellie Frischmann, and Jesse Lucien Womack are all graduates of Gustavus Adolphus College and the Social Justice, Peace, and Development Semester Abroad Program in India. They live in Minnesota and work on a variety of environmental and social justice issues. The following post details their experiences traveling to Dow’s special shareholders meeting in Midland, Michigan on July 20.
Our experiences in India as part of the Social Justice, Peace, and Development program had a huge impact on all of our lives, but one of the most memorable visits we conducted was to Bhopal. We can still clearly recall toppling out of the crowded overnight train, packs heavy on our backs from a long month of travel, facing a feeling of unreality. It was hard to comprehend where we had just arrived – Bhopal, the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in human history.
In 1984, a Dow-Carbide factory in Bhopal leaked toxic gas killing over 8,000 people, maiming hundreds of thousands, poisoning the groundwater of 300,000, and causing ongoing intergenerational birth defects that are still highly prevalent 32 years later. Despite years of struggle and calls for justice, Dow-Carbide has refused to appear before the Bhopal courts for the criminal cases against them. They maintain they have no responsibility for the disaster. After spending time with the people of Bhopal who are working together to care for one another and rehabilitate their land, we know that is not true.
Years after our time in India we remain committed to the Bhopal Campaign, and have been grateful to work with the International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal and Amnesty International in this worthy fight for justice. For these reasons, the three of us set off on an early Tuesday morning for Midland, Michigan, Dow’s headquarters. Dow recently announced they would be merging with DuPont, and Bhopal campaigners knew it was crucial that there be a public display of support for Bhopal at the special meeting of Dow’s shareholders about the merger.
Our small but mighty team stood across from the Dow Campus with our signs and leaflets before heading into the meeting. Dow was clearly aware of our presence – we were discreetly followed by a white truck before and after the meeting, and one security guard noted upon our approach that “the proxy [shareholders] are here.” As we entered the building, all shareholders were asked to hand over any electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.) and had to go through a security checkpoint. As we made our way in, we were quickly told by one Dow staff member that the meeting had already started and the main auditorium was closed, and so we were led into a side room where the meeting was being livestreamed. Our hearts sunk – had we lost our chance to raise questions about Bhopal?
About 10-15 other shareholders were in the room with us, along with many Dow staff members, and on the livestream the CEO and Corporate Secretary had quickly launched into business. Almost as soon as we had taken our seats the Corporate Secretary announced, “There will be no time for questions before or after the vote.” We looked at one another in shock. Then, just as quickly, the Secretary briefly explained the measures being voted on and ballots were distributed.
“Anyone need a ballot?” Before there was even time for those in our room to begin to make their vote, the CEO announced that the polls had been closed and that the preliminary online and mail results were available. Not surprisingly, an “overwhelming majority” of votes were in favor of the merger, with 93% of votes also supporting executive pay changes. Could that really be it?
The CEO made a few brief comments on this “historic moment” for Dow. Oh, we thought, perhaps he’s going to give a short speech. But no, not a moment later did he adjourn the meeting, a grand total of three minutes from start to finish. We looked at each other in disbelief.
One frustrated shareholder in our room commented “We drove all this way for this?”, with another noting that “I went to the bathroom and missed the whole meeting!”
These proceedings made it clear that small Dow shareholders were given absolutely no voice in this decision, which was made by the larger shareholders who had voted and received information on the merger ahead of time. The decision was made behind closed doors, with seemingly no attempt at transparency. Dow had made certain that its shareholders had no power to influence the vote, or even means to receive more information or ask questions
As we started the return drive back to Minnesota, debriefing and processing this surreal experience, we realized that if the incredible women from Bhopal could walk all that way to Delhi, then of course we could make the 11 hour drive to Michigan – even if only for a brief protest and a three-minute meeting. The journey to justice for Bhopal is long, and its roads have already been walked with great grace and conviction for the last 32 years. We will continue to play our own small part in this journey because we know that we all live in Bhopal. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and after having the privilege of spending time with the resilient and powerful people of Bhopal, it is our duty to make the journey with them.