May 13, 2015
Protesters outside the Dupont building held signs that read “Keep your Promises”. A large banner showed three images of Dupont CEO Ellen Kullman in the “speak-no, see-no, hear-no evil monkey portrayal”. Mark from GMO Free Lancaster, my chauffer, and I knew we had found the right place. The feeling as I entered the building on 764 Centre Rd in Wilmington, Delaware was more casual and relaxed than the Monsanto meeting. I was checked off the speaker list by a cheerful lady at the front table, went through security without any hiccups, and was not approached by a “host” or “handler” at all. I did ask a staff member with a badge about the timing of speaking and/or agenda and was led to a reserved seat by the microphone in the center of an aisle.
The room was buzzing with groups of predominantly men in their fifties who were inevitably discussing the possible infiltration by corporate raider and hedge fund owner, Peltz of Trian Company. Peltz was fixing to infiltrate the board with his 2.7% ownership of stock after investing 1.8 billion, and would split up the company. I was not aware of the entire logistics of the situation but what I did know was that today’s vote at the shareholder meeting could be decisive for the fate of the company. As I sat down I was curious about other shareholders perspective, so I chatted with a bearded man in his late sixties about the situation. He said he was against it. He had seen Peltz do this with other companies and it was not in the best interest of the company. He was only after profit and would cut out research and staff to get it. He admitted that much of the research had not yielded profits in the way they had hoped, but he also understood that research needed to be done to develop new products which would get Dupont up to the forefront of the industry. He acknowledged that Dupont has lost ground and as a former employee, he hoped that the research would pan out soon and bring Dupont back to it’s former status as leader in the industry.
I looked around. The anticipation in the room was palpable. The bearded man pointed out that Peltz sat four rows back from me on the other side of the aisle. I looked and saw a distinctly confident looking man, in his late sixties, gray hair slicked back, thick glasses, black suit and grey tie. I couldn’t help but think he almost looked like mafia.
The meeting started with Ellen Kumbell and two men entering the stage and sitting at a table directly before me. She wore a red suit, had short blond hair and looked tense. She avoided eye contact with the shareholders. Media cameras snapped away as she welcomed us. There was standing room only, perhaps 600-800 people waiting to find out the fate of the company. I hoped they would allow themselves to hear what I had to say as well. She asked us to turn off our phones, not record or photograph, and I complied. I know others would not, but I knew they had it showing live and would have the recording online. It made me less nervous to have that concern set aside.
They showed a short flashy video about their sustainable technology and being the global laboratory and I shook my head. Then it was time to attend to business. First up was the election of the directors and members of the board. Peltz was named, and soon he was up at the microphone to make his case to the shareholders. As he stood a foot away from me at the microphone I watched him and the faces of those looking at him. People were literally on the edge of their seats. He talked about how his intentions were perfectly in alignment with theirs and all he wanted to do was to grow the company. He projected a 100% growth of stock, from about $60.00 to $120.00, I believe it was within a year, and a return to Dupont’s former glory. He pointed out the Dupont was once, THE most valuable company in the world. Although he conceded that Dupont “would be not be an Apple any time soon” he asserted that they could be a leader in the industry. It all sounded great. Did the shareholders trust him?
They addressed a few more points and suddenly I was being introduced as proxy for As You Sow. Before I was up the speakers were reminded we had only 2 minutes. My presentation for the lobbying referendum was nearly 4 minutes. I decided to see how far I could get. I did speak quickly, albeit firmly and I put emphasis on the right words. I asked them to disclose their lobbying and be leaders in the industry for transparency integrity and accountability. I pointed out it took courage to be held accountable. I gave an example of the Grocery Manufacturers Association scandal in Washington state and pointed out clearly that mothers boycotted those companies. Thanks to GMO Free USA and all our supporters I could state confidently that companies like Kellogg’s and Monsanto have experienced a 15-34% loss per quarter in relation to lack of reputation and boycotts. Moms have power. I felt a shift in the room and saw several heads nod. They were listening to me. I felt I shifted some votes and anticipated a higher percentage than the usual 19-21% for Yes.
Next Sister Mary Margaret spoke briefly about Grower’s Compliance, and God Bless her heart, she mentioned glyphosate in the water. She urged the shareholders to vote yes for enforcing compliance to the spraying guidelines. I had no idea why the directors would urge shareholders to vote no, but they did. I realize now in hind sight that after the Sister spoke I could have roped in a question regarding spraying and contamination…mention glyphosate in breast milk and Pediasure and baby formula. I am regret I did not think fast enough on my feet to do that. I apologize to the Moms.
Next a man spoke about plants closing and the impact on the rest of the workers. I read the proxy statement and realized quite a few plants had closed, jobs were being lost and many had great concerns about the future of the company.
After he sat down the room was pregnant with silence. The CEO asked if anyone had any questions about only the proxy issues at hand. This was unusual. My understanding is that usually at a shareholder meeting there is a general question and answer period where anyone can get up and ask anything. My opportunity would be gone if I did not take this one. I reframed the context of the content I wanted to share and stood up. The CEO seemed surprised, as if she had just bitten into something sour.
I reintroduced myself and said ”My question pertains to the closing of the plants. I believe the reason why many of your plants are closing is because you make products which are harmful. Why do I claim these toxic chemicals are harmful? I am a mother who has seen it firsthand and scientific studies back up my findings. My son tested positive for glyphosate in his urine 8 x higher than was found in Europe, at a time when he had a sudden onset of autism symptoms. We went organic, avoided GMOs and Glyphosate which is sprayed as a drying agent on wheat, sugar and allowed on 160 of our food crops, and within 6 weeks, he no longer tested positive for glyphosate, his autism symptoms were gone and have never re occurred. My other son’s life threatening food allergies went from a 19 down to a .2. I no longer have to fear of him dying from food. We have hundreds of testimonials from other mothers reporting the same if not better results with many health issues.
If I asked you to raise your hand if you have a loved one with food allergies, autism, diabetes or cancer, I bet every single one of you would raise your hand. We have a health crisis in America and this health issues can all be linked back to chemical farming, to the glyphosate that is sprayed on our crops, as a drying agent as well, on wheat , soy, sugar. They spray it on the soil as a burn down and it is absorbed into our food. Sweet potatoes is allowed to have up to 3 ppm, regular potatoes 5 ppm. It only takes .1ppbillion to destroy gut bacteria.
There is an impact to having animals and human eat chemicals that do NOT wash off or cook off and by definition KILL LIFE.
One of the men at the front of the room interrupted me: “Ms. Honeycutt do you have a question?”
“Yes I do” I said looking at the CEO, “Will you stop investing in toxic synthetic chemicals and instead invest in non toxic products?”
Mrs. Kullman said something about always developing new products and that they were in fact looking into the glyphosate issue with the EPA. She was clearly irked and her left hand man thanked me repeatedly to get me to sit down. I did.
She went on to declare that all their products are vigorously tested and that the EPA has strict guidelines that carefully assess chemicals. Dupont is confident in their process and she alluded to total safety. I got up again and she literally put her hands up as if to stop me. I remained standing. As soon as she finished her sentence I said, “You say glyphosate is safe and scientist say that glyphosate only impacts the shikimate pathway in plants, but the fact is that our gut bacteria have a shikimate pathway and glyphosate kills our gut bacteria, where 70% f our immune system lies. This is weakening our children’s immune system and this is why 1 out of 2 of our children are sick in America. What if you instead developed your previous technology of microbes that consume petroleum to eliminate the plastics in the ocean? What if your research involved improving diverse plant nutrition with hybrids, rather than increasing junk food yield?”
I don’t remember what else they said but it was clear they would not listen to anymore. I was clearly frustrated and yet I did not shout. As I sat down the bearded man said “ You were very passionate. “
I said, “Usually you get more time. I had so much more to say.”
He said, “You got your point across.” And I knew he was right. I did. I said enough to peak the shareholder’s interest, instill doubt and inspire wondering about a new direction.
In fact I heard people around me saying “She has a point.” And “ Wow. Whatdya know…”
When no one else had other questions, which frankly was really disappointing, I wish people would get more involved…they moved on to the results of the voting.
The current board of directors remained. Peltz had lost.
None of the proxys had passed, including the one I represented. I shook my head sadly while shareholder members rose to their feet and gave the board a standing ovation. The man beside me applauded but did not stand up. He said “ Well Peltz will be back here in six months.” It was’t over. He wasn’t done.
Well neither was I.
As I left the room I had several people tap my shoulder and thank me, shake my hand, and thank me.
One woman said “Thank you for your courage.”
A man came up to me and shook my hand, “ Good Job. Thank you for what you’re doing”
A matronly woman said, “ Excellent job. A Dupont staff member is looking for you, don’t leave.” Good sign, I thought.
As I scanned the crowd a sweet lady said, “ Thank you. That needed to be said. Here’s the thing though, I am a former employee of Astra Seneca and I know about the data that is collected. The statisticians can interpret the data to make it appear in favor of the company. So you have to really look into where the data comes from. Be aware of that.” She could have been Red Riding Hood’s Grandma and yet she was talking like a James Bond agent. She was giving me the EYE. This is serious, I knew it, she knew it. Other people were gathering around me, one that looked like an un approving staffer so the woman drifted away as the voice In my head said “ Wait! I want to talk with you more!”
A short lady waiting next to me said “ You were the only one making any sense. I don’t know why they keep doing the same old thing. I am so tired of Dupont continuing to do the same thing.”
The woman next to me said “I am a Dupont employee.”
The short lady said “ Well, I was a Dupont employee too, for 23 years and I am still tired of Dupont doing the same old thing.” She was standing her ground. She didn’t care that this lady was a current staffer. She turned to me pointedly and said “Anyway, thank you. Really. I hope they listen to you. Thank you for being willing to say that.” I thanked her and she left with a bit of a huff in her glance toward the staffer.
The employee said, “ I am Linda Fisher, Chief Sustainability officer.”
“Great!” I said.
“ I would like to follow up with you.”
“Fantastic.” I said, genuinely happy. “ I have some studies I would like to send you.”
“And I would like to get them.” She said. She seemed authentically engaged. Not at all guarded and stand -offish like at Monsanto.
She said essentially that “ We already are moving in the direction of safer chemicals. Our newest insecticide, Rynyxy, is much safer. And we are developing bio pesticides. “I asked her about the pesticide and she said, “Yeah, now you are going to ask me to spell it…and she attempted to. I said it looked like Russian, we actually bantered a bit and then I said, “You know I am hopeful Dupont can be the one that takes on leadership in this area. I have talked to former employees (which I will not name here) and they mentioned the microbes you developed but shelved years back, the microbes that eat petroleum. What if you could have them eat plastic, safely, and clean up the ocean? You know the plastic in the ocean are changing the balance of the bacteria and algae in such a way now that I heard the west coast of Florida has had a flesh eating virus which killed 29 people! “
She said “ I had not heard that”
I said, “You know that whole Gulf of Mexico is a dead zone..what if Dupont could turn that around? You have the resources…”
She said “ We actually did think about doing something about the Gulf of Mexico.” She was truly wndering…
I said, “If you could do that, safely, Dupont would be heros! You would also unseat Monsanto, for sure.”
She said “ We would like that”
I said, “We would too…for someone to be a leader in this industry with safe, non toxic technology. You can do it!”
I found myself authentically smiling at the CSO of Dupont. For me this is a small miracle. Please keep in mid, I have not forgotten all the harm and devastation that have caused with their GMOs, chemical coatings ( they do the non stick pans which are reportedly toxic), toxic pesticides etc…but no one changes anything unless you imagine a new future. That is what they need to do, is imagine a different and new future and live into that.
We exchanged a few more words and then business cards. My card has a picture of my three kids and I on it. They are why I do what I do. I left feeling the meeting was worth it.
In the parking lot, the same 23 year employee rolled down her window as she left and said “You made my entire trip worth it. Only you. You don’t know how important it is that they hear that. Delware is the cancer capitol of America. Everyone at the Dupont plants has mesothelioma.” I was shocked. We talked a bit further while a tall man in his late fifties waited for me.
After I said good bye to this lovely passionate woman whom I will keep anonymous, my biggest supporter of the meeting, I asked the tall man if he wanted to talk with me. He did. He was a 20+ year employee of Dupont and PhD. He was taking a class about microbiology and said that they were learning about the gut brain connection. What I said today was very interesting and very pertinent. He explained he is a part of a think tank group of doctors and asked if I would come out and speak. I was moved. Of course I would. I just needed to have travel expenses covered. I gave him my card and he promised to be in touch with me about a speaker series. What a delightful and surprising result!
I know that Dupont has some real toxic chemicals to get rid of, and some serious crimes of humanity and the environment to contend to. I also know that every day, each one of has a choice, and they can choose to go in a new direction. In about three minutes, as a mom whose commitment is first to our children, I spoke to those possibilities for all moms and they heard me. Thanks to our supporters, we are planting seeds of creation. Thank you.