Archive for October 24th, 2011

Back in August, I wrote this piece for the Sunday Express, which I blogged about here. It concerned a decision by Seb Coe’s Locog to award “exclusive marketing rights” for the 2012 stadium to Dow Chemical, which is currently embroiled in a series of legal disputes over its connections to chemical contamination in Bhopal, India.

Sine then, I’ve done a few other articles and enlisted the support of Keith Vaz MP, who tabled this Early Day Motion on the issue in the Commons this month.

Two weeks ago, we reported that senior figures in the London Games movement now admit a “mistake” was made. They are apparently trying to find a solution but they’re not hopeful. Dow, which is an IOC “global partner”, a position for which it has probably paid tens of millions, has agreed to fund a “wrap” that will adorn the stadium with its logo next year. Locog could return the £7million but Dow could sue and London’s Games bosses believe such a lawsuit could cost £50million, equivalent to a Tier One sponsorship deal.

On Sunday, I reported in the Sunday Express that Amnesty International was now weighing in with a letter to Lord Coe. This has now been picked up by a good report in today’s Independent. The article contains the following quote from Tessa Jowell, who was the Olympics Minister and now Shadows the portfolio for Labour.

Here’s what she said:

Given the allegations which have been made about Dow’s responsibilities in Bhopal it is clear that there are further pressing questions that they must answer.

However, what the Indy report forgets to clarify is that Tessa, along with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, Colin Moynihan, Seb Coe, Sir Menzies Campbell and Don Foster, is actually a member of the Olympic Board.

Her public comments, therefore, are an extremely significant development.

Until today’s article in the Indy, no other newspaper apart from the Sunday Express has touched this controversy, which is a shame. Not even any of the local papers, including the East London Advertiser and the Newham Recorder, have gone near it and neither has the Evening Standard.

If I were a councillor in the Olympic host borough of Tower Hamlets, I think I might raising this as an issue somewhere?

So why have none of them done it?

Here’s the full text of Amnesty’s letter to Lord Coe:

Dear Lord Coe,

Re: Procurement of goods from Dow Chemical Company (Dow) for London Olympic Stadium.

Amnesty International is writing to express serious concern over the procurement of goods from Dow Chemical Company (Dow) by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).  It is our understanding that Dow has been successfully selected by the LOCOG to provide a fabric wrap which will be used to encircle the Olympic Stadium during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

Since 2001 Dow has been a 100% owner of US-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the company which held a majority share in the Indian subsidiary that owed and operated the UCC plant responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster. A toxic gas leak killed between 7,000 and 10,000 people in its immediate aftermath, and a further 15,000 over the next 20 years. Survivors and human rights groups have been campaigning for Dow to address outstanding demands and the ongoing impacts of the disaster, including contamination of water by chemical waste. The company has consistently ignored these calls, denying any responsibility for UCC’s liabilities in Bhopal. 

Nearly twenty-seven years after the tragedy, the site has still not been cleaned up, the leak and its impact have not been properly investigated, more than 100,000 people continue to suffer from health problems without the medical care they need. Survivors are still awaiting fair compensation and full redress for their suffering. Despite criminal charges being brought in India against UCC and its Chairman at the time of the disaster, neither of them have responded to summons to appear before the Indian Court. They are still absconding from Indian justice while extradition requests from USA to India remain pending. In 2009, at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the catastrophe, Amnesty International sponsored a bus tour across Europe in an effort to raise awareness and bring justice to the Bhopal victims. However, injustice continues to prevail as corporate actors continue to refuse to accept responsibility for the disaster and the related clean-up.

Amnesty International was surprised to uncover that Dow was awarded the tender pursuant to completion of a due diligence process and satisfying conditions laid out in the LOGOC Sustainable Sourcing Code (July 2011). These guidelines state that, “[the LOGOC] will place a high priority on environmental, social and ethical issues when procuring products and services for the Games”. The Code further states that it sets a framework which enables the LOGOC to consider the relevant issues and make informed choices by applying a set of core principles throughout.

Amnesty International requests that the LOCOG advise as to the basis on which it has considered that Dow, given the unaddressed legacy of human rights abuses and outstanding concerns relating to legal redress in Bhopal, complies with the requirements of the Code. Please also advise how corporate related human rights abuses are considered as part of the procurement process as this is not evident based on a review of the guidelines.

Furthermore, it may have also come to the LOCOG’s attention that the fact that Dow is an official partner of the 2012 Olympic games continues to cause shock and distress among Bhopal survivors as recently reported by the Indian and international press. The high visibility and legitimacy that its close association with the LOCOG gives Dow is untenable in the face of its continuing failure to address one of the worse corporate related human rights disasters of the 20th century. On the other hand, it risks delegitimizing the long standing calls of Bhopal survivors and other human rights groups for corporate accountability and redress for human rights abuses. 

We look forward to hearing from LOGOC and welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter in greater detail.

Yours sincerely,

Seema Joshi

Head of Business and Human Rights

Amnesty International

Cc: Sue Hunt

Director of Strategic Programme

UPDATE – 6.30pm

London Assembly member John Biggs’s office contacted me earlier to highlight a conversation he’d had with Lord Coe and Locog chief executive Paul Deighton at a plenary session in City Hall last week.

It’s here:

John Biggs (AM): I had one specific question about the stadium which was about the sponsorship from Dow Chemical. I know that they have a global role in sponsoring the Olympics but given their relationship to the Bhopal disaster and Union Carbide and the fact that there is still unresolved legal action, which causes enormous distress and distaste for many people, how comfortable do you feel with them having such a high-profile role in advertising the stadium?

Lord Coe (Chair, LOCOG): I will not extend the pain over the stadium. Actually, the decision that the Mayor and Margaret Ford [Chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company] and the Minister for Sport took after —
John Biggs (AM): The Olympic Board, which you are a member of, takes some role in this as well.
Lord Coe (Chair, LOCOG): It was the right decision to cut through the potential for ongoing legal challenge here and, worse than that, ongoing legal challenge that was taxpayer-fuelled.
John Biggs (AM): I am not disputing that. The question is what one does next.
Lord Coe (Chair, LOCOG): That is an issue, but I will say this. I do think it is very important that we maintain that commitment to an Olympic legacy and to a mix of tenancies in there. That is the commitment we made and that is the commitment we should see through.
On the issue of Dow Chemical, you will remember the wrap, the funding for which was actually removed during the public expenditure around a year ago. We sought commercial opportunities from that and Dow Chemical is an IOC global partner and that is exactly where we are.
John Biggs (AM): So no consideration has been given as to whether this is appropriate at that level of high-profile advertising?
Paul Deighton (Chief Executive, LOCOG): Firstly, all of the partner suppliers we use go through a rigorous process which includes that kind of consideration. This was no different. Everything we do complies with our own sustainability code. We are obviously very sensitive to the issues around Bhopal. I am not sure what everybody understands. The issue is that Dow neither owned nor operated the plant at the time. They acquired Union Carbide many years after. There is ongoing litigation but it is really to do with the Indian Government which is responsible for the ongoing remediation. All the work we have done so far leaves us comfortable that Dow has handled that satisfactorily.
The timeline was this:
July 2010 – Dow becomes a global partner of the IOC
November 2010 – Locog drop plans for the wrap claiming they want to do their bit for the Comprehensive Spending Review by saving £7million
December 2010 – Locog reveal they’ve been approached by commercial companies saying they could “help” with the wrap
February 2011 – Locog announce a tender for the wrap, the prize being “exclusive marketing rights” for the stadium
August 2011 – Dow Chemical announced as the winner and new sponsor.
I’ve asked Locog for the details of their tender, ie who bid, how many bid and prices. All these details are apparently confidential. It leaves one thinking that at some time between July and November 2010, there was something of a stitch-up over this fabric wrap business…

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