Archive for August 7th, 2011

I’ve written this article in today’s Sunday Express about the extraordinary decision by Seb Coe’s Locog to allow Dow Chemical to sponsor part of the 2012 stadium. Dow will be paying for a £7million “wrap” (that’s a sort of colourful curtain wrapped around the outside of the stadium to make it more attractive). Dow’s name will be emblazoned on it in the months leading up to the Games next year.

Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide Corporation in 2001. Union Carbide of course owned and ran the chemical plant in Bhopal where a leak in 1984 killed up to 25,000 people. I spoke to victims’ groups in Bhopal on Friday. They are appalled. They protest regularly against Dow for its refusal to help remediate the still contaminated site and where babies continue to be born maimed. Dow refuse all liability saying they didn’t run the plant in 1984 and that settlement was already reached in 1989.

The victims’ groups are to complain to the Indian PM; they want him to write to David Cameron. (Sports Minister Hugh Robertson welcomed the decision saying he was “delighted”!) I wonder what possessed usually sure-footed Coe to make such a gaffe as he entered the home straight.

I also wonder whether a large campaign will start to get him to reverse this decision. Do Londoner really want this — all for the sake of £7million. Seems ripe for one of those new Government e-petitions…..

By Ted Jeory, Whitehall Editor

OLYMPICS chiefs are shaming Britain by asking a controversial chemical giant “with the blood of Bhopal on its hands” to sponsor the 2012 stadium in London.

This is the claim of campaigners for up to 25,000 people who died in India’s devastating chemical leak in 1984 after a decision last week by Lord Coe.

The 2012 boss announced that Dow Chemical would fund a “spectacular” £7million artwork “wrap” around the stadium throughout next year’s Games.

Its name will be emblazoned on the fabric – although the company is embroiled in a compensation wrangle over Bhopal.

Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide Corporation, whose former Indian subsidiary ran the doomed plant, in 2001.

It said the $470million compensation settlement reached by Union Carbide in 1989 was final. On average the very poor families of those who died received roughly £1,400.

It has insisted it is not liable and has refused to pay more or to clear toxic waste from the site.

Victims’ campaigners say children are still being born maimed because of poisons that continue to pollute the city’s groundwater. They are backing a number of criminal and civil court cases against Union Carbide.

In response, the US chemical industry has threatened not to invest in India.

At Thursday’s announcement, Dow’s UK boss Keith Wiggins admitted his industry had been responsible for “awful legacies” but said it was now time to concentrate on the good that chemicals can do.

Bhopal campaigners said yesterday: “Our terrible legacy is by no means over. Our children are still suffering.”

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal urged Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make a formal complaint to David Cameron.

They are also urging widespread protests, including a “Bhopal Olympics” involving disabled children, until a change of heart from London.

They said they are particularly shocked by Sebastian Coe since his grandfather was from India. Spokeswoman Rachna Dhingra said: “We have a message for Seb Coe: ‘surely, it’s possible to do the Olympics without taking money from this company?’

“By dealing with a corporation like Dow, which has the blood of Bhopal on its hands, the reputation of the London Games and its legacy will be tarnished.”

She accuses Dow, which also produced the Agent Orange chemical used to devastating effect by the US during the Vietnam War, of being guilty of “corporate and moral neglect”.

She said: “They have a PR machine working for them day and night. They can pretty much get away with anything.

“They’re so powerful and have so much money. They hire the most expensive lawyers in this country and they dangle the carrot of investment in India.

“Children are still being born with all sorts of disabilities and water is still contaminated with toxic waste, and yet this corporation continues to make profits every day.

“Dow took over Union Carbide’s liabilities in the US but not in India. They have a completely double standard.”

Arundhati Muthu, Greenpeace spokesman, described the London 2012 move as “offensive”, adding: “This crass attempt by Dow to detoxify their brand won’t wash with the thousands of victims of the Bhopal disaster, nor ordinary Londoners.”

Lord Coe declined to comment, but London 2012 bosses said Dow was a major sponsor of the International Olympic Committee long before last week’s decision. They refused to say whether they had discussed the issue of Bhopal.

A Dow Chemical spokesman said: “Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant, we, along with the rest of industry, have learnt from this tragic event and tried to do all we can to assure that similar incidents never happen again.”

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Tower Hamlets Tory group leader Cllr Peter Golds has an interesting article on ConservativeHome this morning. I’m cross-posting it with ConHome’s permission here:

Cllr Peter Golds, the Conservative opposition leader in Tower Hamllets, documents a housing scandal in his borough

In mid July I received a visit from a woman whose pregnant daughter had been housed in uncompleted student accommodation. One visit to Seth Court, Parmiter Street, Bethnal Green was shocking. Three became harrowing.

This block was designated for students, it was incomplete and the new owner was using it to house vulnerable people, young mothers and others with drink and drug problems.

I found incomplete ceilings, wires hanging free, a fire escape, blocked with building materials and uncompleted windows, a balcony with wobbling rails and as can be seen in this picture floors with windows opening directly outwards, with no catches and a four story drop. The property had not been cleared by building control or the fire service.

Vulnerable people were being “directed” by housing officers to take up private tenancies and of course housing benefit would pay. The weekly rent is £255 per week.

As well as dozens of young mothers, I met a man hardly able to stand because of the effect of drugs; another was walking corridors with a Staffordshire bull terrier, with no lead. Residents described a prostitute on her knees, in the common areas servicing men who were waiting in line!There are no letter boxes and so mail is delivered to the owner. He carefully sorts mail and opens letters from the council or other authorities. If cheques are made payable to him he banks them, if not he sends them back. One resident, Toyah, received notification that all her benefits would cease because they had been sent back. Of course the cheque had been made payable to her. Another, Kathleen, received demands that she pay the landlord in cash, or else. Yet another, Charlee, was missing medical appointments because of intercepted mail.The owner is a man called Yusuf Sarodia who lives in Ilford. He runs a company, which is difficult to identify because it is registered but there are no accounts and the postcode has an incorrect letter. It can be traced to a vacant plot in Hackney.

Yusuf Sarodia, when he learned that residents were speaking to the local press and councillors, served eviction notices on some residents. He threatened the local paper and called me to say “you are a councillor now, you might not be tomorrow.”

The police have been informed about the threats and the council are promising not to send any more vulnerable people here.

From the top floor of this building you can actually see the Olympic site.

In late July I met Rachel, a young woman who was renting a one bedroom property on Commercial Road, E1. Rachel is in work and this was available. It was, she thought, a one time council property purchased under Right to Buy. The landlord was a young man who eventually gave her notice to quit, which became difficult with her losing possessions including her cat.

Discussions with neighbours established that this property was not actually his. It was a council tenancy and in the name of his grandmother, Mrs Bibi.

Having made an enquiry I was told, and I quote the letter exactly, “I can confirm that we are currently dealing with a request to assign the tenancy from Mrs Bibi (who is absent from the property) to her grandson.

Hold on, this is a one bedroom flat. Were grandmother and grandson sharing a room? Mrs Bibi is “absent from the property”, where and how?

Fortunately Rachel has bank evidence, driving licence and other information to prove that she and not the young man was actually resident in this flat.

Will the council check where Mrs Bibi and her grandson are living? Do they receive benefits in respect of this flat? Will the tenancy be assigned?

Do not hold your breath.

 I imagine there are countless other cases like this in Tower Hamlets: I’d like to build up a dossier, so please send me full details.

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