UK lawmakers demand Dow's Olympic deal is ditched

November 3, 2011 - 10:40 AM
Britain Olympics London 2012 Dow

FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2011 file image of an artist's rendering provided by Dow Chemical, an innovative wraparound curtain encircling the Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Games is seen. British opposition legislators say they want Olympics organizers to scrap a deal for Dow Chemical Co. to fund an artistic centerpiece of the 2012 Games because of the company's link to a deadly toxic gas disaster in India. (AP Photo/Dow Chemical, file)

LONDON (AP) — British opposition lawmakers are demanding that London 2012 Olympics organizers scrap a deal for Dow Chemical Co. to fund an artistic centerpiece of the games over concerns about the company's links to the deadly 1984 toxic gas leak in Bhopal, India.

Labour Party legislator Barry Gardiner confirmed Thursday that members of the House of Commons were pressing the London organizing committee, LOCOG, to reverse the deal as a result of concern over the company's response to the victims of the Bhopal leak, which killed an estimated 15,000 people.

The U.S.-based chemical giant will pay for a curtain-style wrap to encircle the Olympic stadium in east London under a deal announced in August.

Organizers had scrapped original plans for a more complex — and costly — stadium wrap which had been estimated to cost 7 million pounds ($11.4 million), but struck an agreement with Dow to pay for a scaled down wrap, made from 336 individual polyester panels, each approximately 25 meters (89 feet) high and 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) wide.

Gardiner and fellow Labour lawmakers Keith Vaz and Tessa Jowell — a former government minister responsible for the Olympics — met with London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe on Wednesday to raise their concerns over Dow's role in the games.

Vaz said lawmakers would meet with Dow next week to raise their objections.

"The best course of action is for Dow to withdraw their sponsorship until the issues in Bhopal have been resolved, but I am happy to hear what they have to say," said Vaz, who has long championed causes on behalf of Britain's large south Asian community. The 2001 Census found there were about 1 million people of Indian origin — the country's largest ethnic minority group — among a population at the time of about 59 million.

A total of British 14 lawmakers signed a motion tabled by Vaz last month expressing reservations over Dow's ties to the Olympics, which are expected to stir concern among Britain's Indian community.

"This is not the right kind of sponsorship for the world's greenest Olympics," Vaz said Thursday in a statement.

Critics accuse Dow of refusing to accept proper responsibility for the victims of the Bhopal leak, which, aside from killing thousands, left thousands more with devastating deformities and other health problems.

The leak — regarded as the world's worst industrial accident — happened at a pesticide plant owned and operated by an Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide.

Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical Co. in 2001. In a statement, Dow said that it had "never owned nor operated the plant and the legal claims surrounding the incident were resolved in 1989, long before Dow acquired Union Carbide."

Dow has previously argued that a legal case over the accident was resolved in 1989 when Union Carbide settled with the Indian government for $470 million, and that all responsibility for the factory now rests with the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which now owns the site.

"In no sense does Dow meet the environmental, social and ethical standards demanded" by Olympic organizers, Gardiner said in a statement. "I urge LOCOG to think again in order to protect the reputation of the Olympic legacy for Britain."

He said lawmakers opposed to the deal "will bring every pressure to bear on LOCOG, with a cross party campaign to support the victims of Bhopal and stop another injustice being visited upon them."

In India, some survivors of the accident have backed a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling on India to force Britain to scrap Dow's Olympics deal.

"If they fail to do so, India must boycott the London Olympics," the Press Trust of India news agency quoted the letter as saying. It was sent by survivors organization the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.

Britain's Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is responsible for the Olympics, told the House of Commons on Thursday that he was aware of concerns, but that Dow had been a "top sponsor" of the International Olympic Committee for many years.

Under the deal, Dow is not be allowed to put its logo on the wrap — as venue advertising is prohibited at the Olympics. However, Dow will be allowed to use its logo on construction billboards and during test events.

In its statement, Dow said that critics were misrepresenting the facts over its links to Union Carbide, and said it was committed to its role at the 2012 games.

"Fundamentally, the Olympic Games are about peace, progress, sustainability and the world coming together to celebrate our common humanity. We share that vision and are committed to achieving it," the company said.