London Olympics Faces Public Meltdown For Dow Chemical Sponsorship

January 26, 2012

india bhopal
Indians protest the Bhopal disaster

A commissioner for a body monitoring the sustainability and ethics of the London 2012 Olympics has resigned over its links with Dow Chemical, the company mixed up in one of the worst corporate related human rights disasters of the 20th century.

Meredith Alexander is quitting the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012. It describes itself as an independent body which “monitors and assures the sustainability of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Ms. Alexander, who is Head of Policy for the charity ActionAid, told BBC’s Newsnight why she was resigning:

“I feel I was part of a lobby which legitimized Dow’s claims that it had no responsibility for Bhopal…This is an iconic case. It’s one of the worst abuses of human rights in my generation and I just could not stand idly by.”

Olympic controversy is nothing new. Remember the corruption scandal surrounding the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002? And the Free Tibet protests that dogged the Olympic torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Games?

With the resignation of Meredith Alexander, the biggest scandal – by far – of the 2012 London Olympics involves major corporate sponsor Dow Chemical. For a massive corporation that mostly produces plastics and poisons, Dow has gotten pretty good press in the last few years. It has been recognized as one of the world’s most gay-friendly companies. It has given over $30,000 to PFLAG’s scholarship program. Its moustachioed CEO Andrew Liveris was named the most influential figure in global chemical markets in 2010, and he’s tight with President Obama – serving on his Export Council and visiting the White House frequently since 2008.

There’s just one problem. In 2001, Dow acquired Union Carbide, a chemical company that ran the pesticide plant that leaked over 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas into the city of Bhopal, India in 1984. Over 20,000 people have been killed by the disaster and today over 100,000 suffer debilitating health problems. Dow and Union Carbide have failed to adequately compensate victims’ families or affected survivors, to clean up the toxic site, or to appear in Indian courts. Understandably, many Indians and activists are not happy with Dow.

After a recent onslaught of protesting and bad PR, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (the LOCOG) announced that Dow’s logo would be not be shown on a controversial wrap used to decorate the main Olympics stadium. (Given the loud opposition, it is hard to believe Dow’s claim that they had chosen to take the decision months ago.) Days later, the Indian Olympic Association urged the International Olympic Committee to terminate Dow’s sponsorship. (Considerable support for India’s position comes from within Vietnam – a country ravaged by Agent Orange manufactured by, you guessed it, Dow.) This seems unlikely after comments from the IOC head, and given that India has taken the threat of an Olympic boycott over the issue off the table.

Yet the protests continue. Many groups inside and outside India would still like to see Dow dropped as a sponsor since its callous attitude towards Bhopal’s victims and survivors strikes many as incompatible with the Olympic spirit of international camaraderie and goodwill. The world and Dow must know that being outstanding with regard to certain human rights does not confer a free pass to ignore others.

Take action with us. Tell the US Olympic Committee not to forget Bhopal Tragedy in India.