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Dow’s Presence Triggers Berkeley Campus Protest

By Richard Brenneman
Friday November 02, 2007

A dozen protesters gathered Tuesday morning outside the building where UC Berkeley was celebrating its embrace of Dow Chemical. 

For Kamal Kapadia, a doctoral student from India, the $10 million “Sustainable Products and Solutions Program” joining Dow with Berkeley’s College of Chemistry and the Haas School of Business was nothing more than another example of corporate greenwashing. 

“This program allows Dow to use our name and claim to be sustainable,” said Kapadia. 

Pointing to campus police who showed up at the invitation-only event in an upper floor meeting room at Haas, Kapadia said, “It should say something about ‘sustainabilty’ that we have to have police at this event, and that they have to do it in secrecy. What does this say about the kind of sustainabilty we are signing on to? But this is not about sustainability. This is about making things.” 

Still, the turnout was a far cry from the mass protests that targeted Dow four decades ago, when angry demonstrators and a widespread boycott forced the company to stop selling napalm to the government—the chemical used in the massive firebombing campaigns of the Vietnam War. 

Some of those gathered for Tuesday’s protest were members of Veterans for Peace, who had seen the effects of the bombings firsthand. 

Paul Cox, a white-haired veteran, said he was especially concerned about Dow’s role as a manufacturer of Agent Orange, a chemical plant killer sprayed on thousands of square miles of jungle during the war to lay the land bare to expose Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troop movements. 

The Veterans Administration has linked the disease with a wide range of cancers and other ailments, while Dow insists there has been no established link to disorders. 

The veterans’ group is helping Vietnamese residents in their quest for legal damages from Dow. 

Soft launch 

The program, funded at $2 million annually over five years, was unveiled at the luncheon meeting by deans Tom Campbell of Haas and Charles Harris of the College of Chemistry, joined by David Keppler, Dow’s chief sustainability officer. 

Serving as the program’s director is Tony Kingsbury, another Dow executive who recently served as the company’s global public affairs leader. His new title for the unsalaried position at Haas is director, Sustainable Products & Solutions Program. 

According to the university’s invitation to what it described as a “soft launch,” the program will create “a new multidisciplinary learning and research environment when the foundations of sustainability—business, science, environment, and society—are all considered simultaneously as new products and solutions are explored.” 

Among the program’s features will be sustainable product research fellowships, case studies and the facilitation of links to corporate grant and internship sponsors. 

“Ultimately the program will involve future collaborations with several UC Berkeley schools and corporations,” the invitation announced. 

The university’s announcement of the Dow program comes just a week before the anticipated signing of another controversial corporate deal, the $500 million research grant linking UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the University of Illinois in a collaborative effort to mine new transportation fuels and energy sources from plants, microbes, coal and nanotechnology. 


Bhopal tragedy 

Dow inherited the legacy of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters when the company bought Union Carbide six years ago. 

Because of a systemic failure at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, a massive leak of deadly methyl isocyanate gas triggered by a Dec. 3, 1984, explosion killed as many as 8,000 people. 

Another 100,000 people, many elderly and children, sustained permanent injuries, and victim advocates claim that as many as 20,000 of them have died as a consequence of the damage done from the chemical exposure. 

When Dow bought Union Carbide the company refused to accept any liabilities stemming from the disaster, and the Supreme Court of India had upheld an earlier settlement. 

Advocates fought the settlement, and have demanded that Dow pay for all costs of remediating the still-contaminated soil and groundwater. 

The Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley adopted a 2004 resolution asking the company to accept responsibility and carry out a cleanup. 

According to an Oct. 28 article in the Calcutta Telegraph, thousands of students and some of the faculty at the seven Indian Institutes of Technology have signed petitions demanding that Dow stop recruiting on their campuses.