Scrutinising Business Ethics, Human Rights, Etc.

American giants run into IIT backlash

New Delhi, Oct. 28: Select US corporate giants — long viewed as symbols of America’s military-industry complex — have run into an unlikely hurdle in their plans to recruit and research at the Indian Institutes of Technology.

The red flag has passed on from the Left’s hands to students and faculty members at the IITs, which are as symbolic of India’s brain drain as George W. Bush is of the Iraq war.

Across the IITs, students and professors do not want companies like Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and Dow Chemicals to have “anything to do with IIT”.

“We don’t allow al Qaida to come and recruit from our campuses. There clearly is some line which has to be drawn,” said Siddharth Sareeen, an IIT Madras student.

The students and faculty want the companies to be scrutinised for their past record in business ethics, environmental issues and human rights before being allowed into any IIT campus.

While Dow and Halliburton want to recruit from the IITs, Lockheed Martin has made requests for cooperation with specific departments like aerospace engineering.

A petition against Dow has been signed by over a thousand IITians, including several faculty members, and submitted to the directors of the seven institutes across the country.

Dow had provided the notorious Napalm — a chemical that sets on fire anything that it falls on — to the American military during the Vietnam War. “Dow’s history, particularly its role in the Vietnam war, is an important reason for our opposition,” Milind Brahme, assistant professor at IIT Madras, said.

Methane leaked from a plant of Union Carbide, now owned by Dow, on a December 1984 night killed thousands — some immediately and many more later from medical complications caused by the gas.

“Dow coming to the IITs is quite disturbing. It has a lot of unfulfilled economic and environmental liabilities in Bhopal,” a professor at IIT Bombay said, clarifying that these were his personal views and not those of the institute.

Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest defence contractors, is an integral part of the US military-industrial complex. It is one of the bidders for the 126 fighter aircraft India is seeking.

Halliburton was one of the first companies to win oil contracts in Iraq after the Americans quelled the initial resistance in that country, and has been at the centre of controversies because of its links to US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

At IIT Madras on Friday, students and faculty — including some who believe Dow should be allowed to come to the campus — held a debate. They had invited a Dow representative to participate, but the company did not send one.

IIT Bombay’s placement committee is examining the request to scrap Dow from the list of visiting companies. The company’s representatives were scheduled to come yesterday, but the IIT has asked for the visit to be postponed, citing a busy Sunday schedule.

Dow had also postponed its visit to IIT Madras for recruitment on Friday. The company, which has paid compensation to Bhopal victims but is still battling a case on environmental compensation against the Indian government, said the postponement was unrelated to the campaign against it.

“Our officials who were to visit the campus could not come on the pre-decided date as other meetings suddenly came up. This has been conveyed to the IIT,” Nand Kumar Sanglikar, Dow India’s spokesperson, said. “We are expanding in India. We want the best brains in the country to join us.”

Building consensus against Lockheed Martin or Halliburton will not be as easy as the campaign against Dow, Brahme confessed, because of the absence of an India link.

“But the main issue is to put in place guidelines by which companies would be evaluated on an ethics compliance scale. There is growing sentiment on campus for such guidelines,” Brahme said.

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