by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP)
clean up Bhopal now
unauthorized rally for Bhopal (Mumbai, India - 2002)
Disabled children suffering the effects of the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India are to take part in a “Special Olympics” on Thursday to protest against London 2012 sponsor Dow Chemical.
The event is aimed at raising awareness about the legacy of birth defects and pollution from the accident at a factory owned by US chemical company Union Carbide, which was bought by Dow in 1999, organizers said Tuesday.
The plant leaked poisonous gas into neighboring slums in Bhopal, killing thousands instantly and tens of thousands more over the following years in the world’s worst industrial accident.
The “Bhopal Special Olympics” will see at least 100 physically and mentally disabled children compete on a sports field in the shadow of the defunct factory, which still contains toxic waste left untreated by local authorities.
The contests in Bhopal — the day before the London Games officially open — will include football, an “assisted walk” and a “crab walk”, in which participants unable to stand on two feet race on their hands.
“We are doing this mostly due to Dow’s attempt to greenwash its crimes,” Rachna Dhingra, a spokeswoman for the five survivors’ groups behind the initiative, told AFP.
“We all find it ironic that a corporation that has disabled people in Bhopal is sponsoring the Olympic Games.”
Organisers are also targeting Britain and its colonial crimes, particularly in India. The Bhopal Olympics “will open with songs and dances focusing on matters that British people could be ashamed of,” Dhingra said.
The decision by London 2012 organizers to stick by Dow Chemical has caused anger in Bhopal and led to complaints from the Indian government, which asked for the company to be dropped as a sponsor.
“Our biggest qualm with (British Prime Minister) David Cameron and (chief Olympics organizer) Lord Sebastian Coe is the simple reason that they never gave the survivors of Bhopal the chance to express themselves,” Dhingra said.
Dow bought Union Carbide more than a decade and half after the disaster and insists all liabilities were settled in a 1989 compensation deal that saw Union Carbide pay the Indian government $470 million.
The local and federal governments have also faced criticism in India for failing to clear the site and prevent further contamination of groundwater more than 25 years after the disaster.
Dhingra said the children in the Bhopal event were all willing participants.
“I would say 60 percent (of the children) have had training. This is part of their rehabilitation,” she said.
“This is what Dow has done. There is no better way to show their crimes.”
The organizers of the London Olympics and the International Olympic Committee have faced consistent questions over their choice of sponsors, including fast-food giant McDonalds and soft drink maker Coca-Cola.
After an outcry in India and speculation about a boycott by Indian athletes, London organizing officials said Dow’s branding would not appear on a giant fabric wrap around the main stadium in the east of the British capital.
Our Polluted World and Cleaning It Up
Olympic organisers should consider the ethical, environmental and human rights records of multinational companies before awarding them lucrative sponsorship deals, according to London’s elected politicians.
The London Assembly today passed a motion criticising the International Olympic Committee’s selection of Dow Chemical Company as a worldwide partner, in a deal said to be worth $100m over 10 years.
The Assembly said that the decision to do business with Dow, which is the 100 per cent shareholder of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), whose Indian subsidiary was responsible for the world’s worst ever industrial disaster in Bhopal, had damaged the reputation of London 2012.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympics and Paralympics Games (Locog) was also criticised today for doing a ‘local deal’ with Dow, to provide decorative wrap for the main stadium which was described by one assembly member as a an “architectural nicety, but totally unnecessary.”
Dow, which denies that it has any responsibility for the Bhopal disaster or outstanding contamination of water and soil in the Indian city, bought UCC in 2001 – 17 years after the gas disaster claimed as many as 25,000 lives.
Several members of the London Assembly said Dow could not absolve legal or moral responsibilities with regards to Bhopal.
Darren Johnson, Green Party member, said: “Dow was not involved at the time and did not own the Union Carbide plant at the time. But it now owns the company wholly, including those subsidiaries involved the water contamination today, and so it cannot absolve those liabilities because of a take-over a deal.”
Labour’s Navin Shah, who proposed the motion, said: “The issues around Dow’s on-going court cases are complex but they are on-going and very real. The Olympics have become a big business, and money talks in the end. The IOC remains a faceless and shameless organisation, colluding with organisation involved in environmental and human rights abuses.”
Tory member Andrew Boff, whose Party members opposed the motion, accused his Assembly colleagues of relying on media reports rather than the facts. “The idea that Dow Chemicals has a responsibility for the tragedy does not meet the test for natural justice,” said Boff.
Concerns about other major sponsors and Olympic partner such as McDonalds, criticised on the basis of the obesity epidemic, were also raised during the debate. The world biggest McDonalds has been built in the London Olympic park.
Mr Shah said it was too late for London but that the IOC should act for future Games and “[have] criteria for partners that conform to their own priorities and keep out the likes of Dow Chemicals.”
Lib Dem Stephen Knight said the IOC was good at protecting the commercial brand of the Olympics, but not the ethical brand – which should be kept “sacrosanct”.
The following motion was passed with a majority of 16 to seven:
- Gas tragedy victims to hold ‘Bhopal Olympics’ (thehindu.com)
- Olympics: Bhopal victims organise protest Games (terradaily.com)
- Bhopal and the sound of silence (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- US court absolves Union Carbide of liability in Bhopal tragedy (thehindu.com)
- Bhopal: A Silent Picture (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Activists to Appeal U.S. Court’s Bhopal Verdict (ipsnews.net)
- Exhibition Highlights Link Between Olympics and Bhopal Disaster (theepochtimes.com)
- In ‘Bhopal: A Silent Picture,’ Artist Recalls the 1984 Disaster (india.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Legacy of Bhopal disaster poisons Olympics (bbc.co.uk)
- London Assembly says Olympic organisers should consider ethical, environmental and human rights records of sponsors (independent.co.uk)