If the trend continues, the words “corporation” and “corruption” may soon become synonymous. Another case of corporate irresponsibility recently prompted the Michigan Student Assembly to pass a resolution asking the University to essentially relinquish its ties with the Dow Chemical Corp. Dow Chemical’s recently-acquired subsidiary, Union Carbide, perpetrated a human and environmental catastrophe in Bhopal, India in 1984. When a chemical plant owned by Union Carbide Corp. experienced a gas leak, 20,000 people died and another 120,000 were left chronically ill. Although this tragedy occurred nearly 20 years ago, evidence suggests that Union Carbide has not sufficiently cleaned up the area, and people continue to suffer. The University is in a unique position to help remedy this – specifically, MSA is asking the University to refuse any funds that otherwise could have gone to the region in Bhopal.
Within the past three years, Dow Chemical has donated about $10 million to the University. Dow ranks among the top 26 companies that give large donations to the University.
The corporation’s close ties to the University necessitates this action. Despite the fact that Dow claims no legal responsibility, it has a moral responsibility to clean up their subsidiary’s mess. What is particularly appalling is that Dow resolved Union Carbide’s asbestos responsibilities in Texas, with costs amounting to almost $1 billion. Conversely, the Indian government estimates the damages to be approximately $500 million in Bhopal. Union Carbide did pay a $470 million settlement in 1989, but the area has not been returned to its prior environmental state.
With 534 University students living in the Tittabawasse River floodplain, where Dow refuses to clean up abnormally high dioxin deposits, and 407 students from India, the University has an obligation to its students in addition to a moral obligation to loosen its ties with this corporation. By taking action on this issue, the University will set a precedent for other universities to take a stand. Putting pressure on this corporation may force some action on their part.
Some say that it is not practical to deny the role Dow plays on campus. As a research-oriented campus, the University thrives on corporate donations and in uncertain economic times that money is all the more useful. However, this university also prides itself on integrity, concern for moral issues and an understanding that sometimes principles surmount fiscal gain. For example, the University stopped investing in tobacco companies in 2000, arguing that their product line stood in disagreement with the principles of the University.
By refusing to accept funds that otherwise should go to Bhopal, the University would send a clear message to Dow: We want your money, but you need to spend money on regions where you have transgressed. These are bold demands, but in a time where corporate corruption is under the magnifying glass and its most reprehensible offenses are visible, moral resolution is not an option but a necessity.