London Olympics Further Tainted by Dow Chemical

March 6, 2012

Activists and survivors of the 1984 Bhopal disaster
Activists and survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster demonstrate. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Since we last told you about Dow Chemical’s controversial Olympic sponsorship, things seem to have only gotten worse for Dow Chemical – from a public relations perspective anyway. Along with Dow Chemical’s horribly insensitive comments, the increased media attention has only revealed additional ethically troubling business practices.

The International Olympic Committee and games’ organizers continue (for now) solidly and uncritically back Dow as a sponsor, despite harsh criticism from Amnesty and others. But if Dow Chemical was hoping that it might benefit from the benevolent glow of the Olympic spirit of international goodwill, the past few weeks have not been kind.

For those needing some background, here it is. In 2001, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide (UCC), 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 Chemical 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. Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris maintains that any claim that it might have any responsibilities to Bhopal’s survivors is “beyond belief”. Understandably, many Indians and activists are not happy with Dow Chemical.

In recent weeks new revelations have come to light. In mid-February, it was discovered that Dow Chemical knowingly violated a ban on the sale of Union Carbide products in India by selling millions of dollars of products through a web of intermediaries. Not only does this demonstrate Dow Chemical’s willingness to violate Indian law, it also undermines the company’s legal claim that it is a separate entity from Union Carbide and therefore not responsible in any way for remedying the situation in Bhopal.

By the end of February, Wikileaks had released emails between Dow Chemical and Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. These revealed that Dow Chemical had paid to have Bhopal activists closely monitored for years, demonstrating an ongoing awareness and concern about the damage Bhopal continued to do to Dow Chemical’s reputation. Makes you wonder why Dow Chemical spent its money spying on activists instead of actually addressing the issues they have been raising for decades.

And then there was news that India will be partially boycotting the London Games, refusing to send an official delegation to the opening or closing ceremonies. Symbolic yes, but an embarrassment nonetheless for the London organizers and for Dow Chemical.

More athletes have become involved in the campaign against Dow Chemical and it remains important to make your voice heard. Please take action and let the US Olympic Committee know that this is not just an Indian issue, but a human rights issue, and that Dow Chemical’s sponsorship be more critically considered.

To learn more and help raise awareness about Bhopal, consider attending or hosting a screening of Bhopali, a new documentary about the disaster.

James Mutti, India Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA, contributed to this post