Want IIM-B to Walk the Talk on CSR: Prof on Disinviting Unilever

A professor at IIM Bangalore was asked to retract a mail on ‘disinviting’ Unilever responsible for mercury poisoning

5 min read

An associate professor at IIM Bangalore has received a censure order from the director for sending a mail to the Placement Committee, saying they should “disinvite” Unilever during campus placement.

In a mail shared with the media on 5 December 2018, Dr Deepak Malghan, who teaches public policy at IIM Bangalore says, “Unilever has been arm-twisting IIM Bangalore (IIM-B) after I organized a talk by classical singer TM Krishna and environmentalist N Jayaraman at IIM-B”.

After a written censure order was issued by the Director, Dr Malghan has retracted his mail about disinviting Unilever. Though Dr Malghan maintains that he did so "under protest".


Mail Sent to ‘Disinvite’ Unilever Riles IIM Director

Malghan’s troubles began when he wrote a mail to the Placement Committee in June 2018 suggesting that the management institution should disinvite Unilever during summer placements.

In a mail dated 30 June 2018, Deepak Malghan urged IIM Bangalore to act like a “responsible university”:

“Would it be possible to disinvite HUL/Unilever from the upcoming summer placements unless they pledge to end their environmental racism. An institution like IIM-B disinviting them from placements will send out a powerful message that management institutions can actually walk the talk about corporate responsibility.”
Mail sent by Deepak Malghan to the Placement Committee

Reminding the Placement Committee of the campaign being led by Carnatic singer and Magsaysay laureate TM Krishna against Unilever for causing mercury poisoning in Kodaikanal, Malghan further said:

“Disinviting Unilever from placements requires us to act like we are a real place of higher learning – with real students and professors in a classroom rather than customers and service providers.”
Mail sent by Deepak Malghan to the Placement Committee

FMCG giant Unilever is among the several top-notch private companies that visits IIM-B every year for hiring MBA graduates. In 2017, Unilever had given placement offer to 7 students in the marketing and sales domain and had hired another student for IT operations.

In an apparent dig at the authorities of IIM-B, Malghan had ended his mail with a question:

“Can we muster real responsibility? Several students from the environment club have asked for a creative agenda for the new academic year – here is one that is slightly more challenging than planting the next sapling on campus?”
Mail sent by Deepak Malghan to the Placement Committee

Director Issues Censure Order

On 17 October 2018, G Raghuram, Director of IIM Bangalore issued a written censure order to Deepak Malghan.

The censure order, accessed by The Quint, directs Malghan to retract his mail.

“You have sent a communication dated June 30, 2018 to the students asking them to “disinvite” a potential recruiter from placements. Please retract this email through an appropriate communication to the recipients of your earlier email at the earliest, but not later than 22 October 2018.”
Censure order

According to Malghan he has been accused of “communicating directly with the stakeholders on matters where primary ownership of communication is with assigned institutional entities”.

Speaking to The Quint, Professor Malghan says, “the censure order itself does not cite any particular violation and that’s why I filed an appeal.”

Since Malghan was given only five-days-time to retract the mail, he has approached the Board of Governors citing clause 9.7 of IIM service rules that allows one to file an appeal within 45 days.

Malghan is confident that the Board of Governors, being headed by the chairman of Narayan Hrudyalaya, Dr Devi Shetty, will order roll-back of the censure diktat.


Unilever Accused of Mercury Poisoning

The issue that Malghan talks about had been in news when a video featuring TM Krishna and rapper Sofia Ashraf had gone viral in July this year.

In a song titled, ‘Kodaikanal Still Won’t’, Krishna and others had urged the corporate major to comply with environment standards. Unilever runs a thermometer factory in Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu) and has been accused of dumping toxic mercury waste in the area.

‘Clean up right, clean the site. Treat us like we were white’, went the lyrics of the song with activists urging Unilever CEO Paul Polman to take immediate action.

Following the video’s popularity, Professor Malghan had invited TM Krishna along with environmentalist Nitynanand Jayaraman for a discussion on the ecological mess created by Unilever.

On 6 August 2018, TM Krishna had addressed a gathering of students and faculty members at IIM Bangalore on the issue of environment hazard being faced by the people of Kodaikanal.

In a session that lasted for almost two hours, Krishna had talked about why it’s important to see the issue through the prism of a ‘citizen’ instead of a ‘consumer’.

Malghan claims that it was shortly after this talk when Unilever communicated in a formal mail that they won’t be coming to the campus for summer placement.


‘Where the Mind is NO LONGER Without Fear’

As Deepak Malghan formally retracted his mail on 28 November 2018, he invoked Tagore’s poem, ‘Where the mind is without fear’ to express his concerns regarding freedom of speech.

“Academic autonomy is sacred at any world class institution. Any intimidation of faculty severely compromises IIMB’s ability to recruit and retain competent scholars and teachers.”
Deepak Malghan’s mail dated 28 Nov 2018 addressed to students and faculty 

Malghan says he “will continue to engage with questions such as Unilever’s shameful record of environmental racism both inside and outside the classroom.”

The professor also told The Quint that he has got letter of support from some students. However, there are others who think that there is some problem with every private company and Unilever, being a crucial recruiter should not be singled out.

As the appeals process is still on, Professor Malghan refused to share details about students who have written to him since the incident came to light. The Board of Governors at IIM Bangalore is expected to hear Malghan’s case in January 2019.


Response by IIM Bangalore

In response to a mail sent to the media manager at IIM Bangalore, the institute’s Director G Raguram has issued the statement below:

“IIM Bangalore holds the highest traditions of academic freedom, but with it comes responsibility of one’s actions on other stakeholders. This censure was a consequence of a series of issues over a long period of time with the said Faculty member. Some of his email exchanges have caused angst and hurt in the community. In this particular instance, an email from Professor Malghan had called upon students to “disinvite” HUL from the Placement process. Many students and several members of the IIMB community expressed displeasure with such an email, and they raised an issue seeking to know whether such statements could be made. On multiple grounds, an internal process was undertaken. After following due processes and coming to certain findings, the competent authority has taken an action to issue the censure.”
Statement by Professor G Raghuram, Director, IIM Bangalore

Response by HUL

In response to a questionnaire sent by The Quint, the Company spokesperson said:

“As part of our drive to attract the most promising talent to work with us, Hindustan Unilever Limited continuously reviews its recruitment strategy. IIM-Bangalore nurtures some of the finest future leaders in the country, and we continue to value our partnership in bringing some of their best and brightest talent into the Unilever fold.”
Spokesperson, Hindustan Unilever

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Topics:  TM Krishna   campus placement   Kodaikanal 

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