London Olympic sponsor’s toxic track record

Organizers of the 2012 London Olympics promise they will be the greenest in history. But major sponsor Dow Chemicals, owner of the company liable for one of history’s biggest industrial catastrophes, puts the Games’ green credentials under a cloud.

The Bhopal Disaster, recognized as one of the world’s worst environmental tragedies decimated the rural Indian town of Bhopal in December 1983, when a gas leak from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide exposed thousands to toxic chemicals. The initial death toll was estimated at 25,000 people, with a further 10,000 thought to have died in the chemical fallout.

The inhabitants of Bhopal still suffer with the toxic legacy today with children born with deformities and water supplies still contaminated by chemical pollution.

Dow Chemicals purchased Union Carbine following the disaster in 2001 and has done very little to improve the situation in Bhopal. A full-scale clean-up of the plant is still pending and widespread demands for compensation still left unanswered.

Meredith Alexander, a member of the Games Ethics Watchdog commission who resigned in protest over Dow’s sponsorship of the games, spoke to RT’s correspondent Ivor Bennett.

“It’s supposed to be an opportunity to showcase the best and the brightest, whether it’s the host city or the sport, it’s supposed to be about the Olympic values. Instead, all of us are going to have the toxic legacy of Dow Chemicals on our conscience,” she said.

The announcement that Dow Chemicals would be sponsoring a 7-million-pound (US$11 million) fabric wrap for the East London Olympic Stadium was met with uproar by activists and athletes alike. The inhabitants of Bhopal turned out in their thousands to protest the decision, burning effigies of Games Chairman Lord Coe in December of last year. India’s Olympic team threatened to boycott the games unless Dow’s sponsorship was withdrawn.

Both Dow Chemicals and the Olympic organizers have refused to comment on the issue but Lord Sebastian Coe did make a statement concerning the matter.

"I absolutely stand by our procurement process and Dow were, by a distance, the most sustainable solution to our wrap and we are comfortable with that," he said.

In spite of the widespread outcry, Dow confirmed that it would not be withdrawing sponsorship, but did declare that the fabric wrapping would not carry the company’s logo emblazoned for the world to see. So it seems that Dow Chemicals is shelling out 7 million quid just to be able to call itself a sustainable Olympic partner. A relatively small price in comparison to the $1.6 billion demanded by the Indian Supreme Court as compensation for the 1983 tragedy.

“I can’t believe how, with open hands, the money’s being taken, Dow’s trying to prove that they’re very sustainable and trying to improve their image,” Farah Edwards, a survivor from the Bhopal catastrophe, told RT. “The best way they can improve their image is by cleaning up the factory site!”

With less than six months to go before the curtain rises on the London Games, it seems unlikely that Dow Chemicals’ sponsorship will be pulled. In spite of the Olympic organizers’ claims of a truly-sustainable Games, it looks as though they will be eclipsed by a corporate shadow.