Dow Chemical Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris was honoured by the Chinese government this week by being chosen as the representative of a group of the biggest foreign companies invested in China, and even given an audience with Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday.
Mr. Liveris, along with a few dozen top CEOs of foreign firms, was invited to a rare audience with Mr. Wen on the sidelines of a prominent annual government-sponsored development forum. Forum organisers said Mr. Liveris was chosen to head the delegation under a rotating policy that selected executives from a different country every year.
A representative of the organisers, asking not to be named, said they were aware of the ongoing controversy surrounding Dow Chemical's sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics, but declined to provide further information about the appointment of Mr. Liveris as the delegation head.
Even as the company's involvement in the Olympics has stirred controversy in both India and in the United Kingdom, there was no mention in the Chinese official media of the company's ongoing troubles. This was despite the prominent presence accorded to Dow at the development forum over the weekend and increasing sensitivity in China in recent years about environmental concerns and corporate responsibility.
Mr. Liveris last month hit out at the criticism directed at Dow, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, 16 years after the Bhopal tragedy that left thousands of people dead. He said opposition to the company, which he said had no involvement in the tragedy, was “beyond belief.”
But critics say the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has sent a wrong message by accepting Dow's sponsorship. Victims and activists in Bhopal have said the compensation agreed to earlier was woefully inadequate in light of increasing evidence of the larger scale of the disaster.
No to compensation
While they have argued that Dow bore responsibility for accepting the liabilities of Union Carbide when it acquired it, the company has rejected any compensation claims. “The obvious reason people are trying that is because we are a healthy company with deep pockets that people want a second bite of the cherry on,” Mr. Liveris told Bloomberg in a recent interview. “I keep saying, ‘Please go to India, please talk to the Government of India and please work it out with them'.”
In his meeting with Mr. Wen, the Dow head praised the Chinese Premier, who will step down later this year, for his leadership over the past decade and also sought his “advice and reflection” on what role Dow could play in helping China's development.