By Vanessa Kortekaas in London and Girija Shivakumar in New Delhi
Anger is mounting in India at the appointment of Dow Chemical as a 2012 Olympics sponsor, marking the fiercest criticism yet of the London committee’s sponsorship programme.
The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Locog) recently selected Dow to produce a sustainable fabric “wrap” for the Olympic stadium that will display digital images. This is Dow’s first engagement with the 2012 games since signing a 10-year agreement with the International Olympic Committee last year to become a worldwide Olympic partner.
However, activists such as Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Action and Information say that allowing Dow to sponsor the London Olympics “legitimises” the company’s links to the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster, which killed at least 8,000 people.
In 1999 Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide – the company that was running the plant in India when a gas leak quickly became one of the world’s worst industrial accidents. Locog has stressed that “it is a matter of record that the plant at the time of this human tragedy was not owned by Dow Chemical”.
But campaigners, who put the death toll from the accident as high as 25,000, say they are planning protests in Bhopal, New Delhi and London. They are also asking the Indian government to officially protest against Locog’s decision.
Activists from the Bhopal Group for Action and Information are on Thursday sending a letter to Manmohan Singh, Indian prime minister, and the IOC, asking for their support.
Mannish Tiwari, a Congress party MP in India, said if the families of Bhopal victims approached the government with concerns about Dow’s role in the Olympics, it would “surely” look into the matter.
Activists are circulating a petition among athletes in India proposing to boycott the 2012 Olympics if Dow retains its sponsorship – a move which is said to have drawn support from former world hockey champion, Aslam Sher Khan.
Vinuta Gopal, a campaigner for Greenpeace India, the environmental lobby group, said: “When Dow Chemical has not addressed their responsibilities in Bhopal they simply should not be associated with an event like the Olympics.”
Locog said that Dow was only appointed as the supplier of the estimated £7m Olympic stadium wrap after a “rigorous procurement process”, adding: “All of our suppliers must work within our own sustainable sourcing code and reflect our values and sustainability requirements.”
Dow Chemical said: “Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant and the legal claims surrounding the incident were resolved in 1989, long before Dow acquired Union Carbide, we – along with the rest of industry – have learned from this tragic event, and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements to ensure that such incidents never happen again. While the past must never be forgotten, our position as a Worldwide Olympic Partner represents our vision for the future.”