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India to Boycott Olympics over Bhopal?

Indian athletes will meet on December 5 to decide whether or not to boycott the 2012 London Olympics. The issue is an Olympic sponsorship deal with Dow Chemical, “under fire in India for its ownership of Union Carbide, whose Indian subsidiary was responsible for the Bhopal industrial disaster, … estimated to have killed up to 25,000 people and injured over half a million.”

Dramatic AP copyright photo of Immediate victims, December 3, 1984

It is a 7 million pound sponsorship deal awarded to Dow, writes the UK’s Independent,
“allowing it to ‘wrap’ the stadium in company fabric – and giving the chemical giant a global media profile next summer – that has outraged some athletes and politicians in India.” …

The former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell … last night called on the former British Olympian [Coe] to cancel the deal with Dow before the controversy irreparably damages the standing of the 2012 Games. Ms Jowell told The Independent: “There is a point at which you have to say you cannot take the reputational risk.”

[She added:] “The unacceptability of Dow hinges on the continuing nature of the crisis for people who live in that area. It is better to have an unwrapped stadium than one wrapped in controversy.”

At present, though, Coe completely buys Dow’s PR:

Dow were not the owners, the operators or involved in the management of that plant at the time of either the disaster or the settlement in 1989 that has been upheld twice by the Indian Supreme Court. There are issues around this issue, but I am satisfied they are not issues that directly involve Dow.

Surely a smart guy like Sebastian Coe should know that you acquire liabilities as well as assets when you buy a company. When it was considering buying Union Carbide, Dow’s staff would’ve known or found out that numerous Bhopal disaster cases were ongoing in Indian and U.S. courts. For example, the contaminated groundwater issue has never been resolved in the Indian courts. In fact, the site of the disaster has never been cleaned up, another liability issue, and Union-Carbide-poisoned water even today kills and injures Bhopal’s people. After its diligent staff of course discovered all that potential liability, I bet Dow demanded a deep discount in the (never revealed) price it paid for Union Carbide.

To learn more, go to Students for Bhopal. For an informative and satirical take, see the 2004 ‘Dow takes responsibility’ prank at Dow Ethics. The pretend Dow (Yes Men) spokesperson actually made it onto BBC news [youtube video].

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