The head of the London Olympics Committee has defended an Olympics contract with Dow Chemicals, despite controversy surrounding the company.
Sebastian Coe has defended a contract with Dow Chemicals in providing the “wrap” feature for the Olympic Stadium in London, despite the company being associated with one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes.
On December 2, 1984, in Bhopal, India, a gas leak at a Dow Chemicals plant instantly killed between 7 and 10 thousand people. Over the next 20 years, another 15,000 died.
Amnesty International has said Dow Chemicals has never addressed the human rights impact of Bhopal, with the site still contaminated today -- over 100,000 people are still affected.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Meredith Alexander, former Olympic 2012 commissioner, to further discuss the issue. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.
Why have you resigned?
Amnesty International presented me with information that categorically showed that Dow Chemicals is responsible for the Bhopal tragedy. Now, this was a gas leak in the 1980s that killed over 20,000 people.
It’s not a historical problem. It’s an ongoing problem. The site has never been cleaned up. You still have incredibly high miscarriage rates around the area. The people who live there drink water that they know is poisonous.
This was a company that was then taken over by a sponsor of the games?
That’s right. So, this plant was owned by Union Carbide. Then, about a decade ago, Dow Chemicals, a US company, took over Union Carbide.
When they took over Union Carbide, they got all the good stuff. They got the knowledge, the expertise, the shares. They also got any debts the company would have, and any liabilities. In this particular case, that’s the toxic liability of Bhopal.
It was Dow Chemical that was approached by the Olympic committee here or was it the other way around to sponsor - what exactly does the company sponsor?
Dow is connected in two high profile ways to the London games. The first is that they’re an international sponsor, and that decision was made by the IOC -- the people in Geneva who are in charge of the games overall.
Then, there was a contract to do a wrap for the stadium. I mean, it’s sort of like giant plastic curtains is maybe the best way of thinking about them.
Around the stadium?
Yes. And that contract was put out to tender and it was awarded to Dow Chemicals.
Now, I was part of something called the Commission for a Sustainable 2012 which was tasked at looking at how sustainable, how ethical the games are going to be.
When London first wanted to host the games, obviously we put together a whole series of information about how it would look and where we would have it.
You were there at the beginning?
No. I came in about two years ago.
But this whole package was called the “bid”. This was a series of promises that were made to the world. We said if we host the games then in return this is how we would do it.
One of the promises was that London 2012 would be one of the most sustainable games ever. I find it impossible to reconcile that claim with the decision to give Dow Chemicals, a company with one of the worst abuses of human rights by a corporation in my generation connected to it, a high profile contract like the “wrap”.
Well, you’ve been applauded by the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee here in parliament, former Mayor Ken Livingston and others. But your other commissioners and the chief executives, as it were, of the whole Olympic games doesn’t feel to share your concern?
Well, I know for the other commissioners it was a hard decision as well. There were others who struggled with what to do about it.
But I think much more important is what LOCOG is going to do.
LOCOG being the London Games Organizers -- so, these are the people who awarded the contract to Dow.
I think it’s really important to understand it is essentially like a giant set of curtains. It’s not necessary. It’s not going to help the athletes run any faster. It’s not really going to make the day any brighter for the spectators. It’s certainly not going to give anyone a better view.
So, I really would like to see the London games organizers cancel the contract because from what I understand from the victims and the families of the people who died in Bhopal, that is what they are calling for.
But where does one stop? -Because people might say that clothing manufacturers use sweatshops in developing world, surely you might have thought of resigning over those issues. Why is Bhopal so important?
I think you’re right. There are a number of other issues that people are very concerned about and rightly so.
I think the question of ethics and sponsorship really hasn’t been looked at effectively by the Olympics.
But I would come back to the fact that over 20,000 people have died. Justice has never been done. Full compensation has not been paid. And babies are still born today who are deformed or who are ill because of the toxic poison in the ground water around them.
I think for me, Dow Chemicals really is an iconic case.
I should say that the CEO of London 2012 said it’s absolutely her right to make her point about how she feels about the victims of Bhopal. We fully respect her. She’s one of 12 people who signed off on our process for choosing Dow to provide the wrap; so we carry on.
How does it actually work in this committee? Do you all sit around a table and look at these company names or how do you judge the ethics of the sponsorship that way?
The commission is going to be looking specifically at sponsorship going forward, and as I’ve resigned I won’t be a part of that.
But what I’d really like to say in response to that is I feel very strongly that what’s happening here is that everyone is listening to the company’s side of the story.
Dow Chemicals, I’m sure, has a massive PR machine and can put a lot of money behind their reputation.
It’s really sad but the truth is the games organizers here in London seem to just be parroting back the company’s lines. To my knowledge, they’ve never actually met with any representatives of the victims. They’ve never met anyone who was poisoned that night or who lost a loved one that night. And for them to continue to spout the company’s line without having seen the other side of the story, to me is really hard to understand.
As a result of this contract, Dow’s toxic legacy is going to be a stain on the conscious of all Londoners. I know many, many people who are rightly excited about the games, who are really uncomfortable about that.
In fact, I’ve had people contact me to tell me that they’ve decided to hand back their tickets because they wouldn’t be able to go and have fun. That’s such a shame because the Olympics should be about celebrating what’s best and brightest.