Yesterday, MP Barry Gardiner told me that “this is the first glimmer that Dow has some shame” about what is happening in Bhopal. He was referring to their decision to waive their sponsorship rights over the 2012 Olympic stadium wrap.
Here is the story from today’s Sunday Express.
DOW Chemical last night agreed to remove all its branding from Britain’s Olympic stadium in what was hailed as a victory by campaigners furious at its links to a disaster in India.
The US corporate giant said it was agreeing to the “vision” of the 2012 Games by waiving its sponsorship rights to place its brand on a controversial fabric wrap for the stadium.
However, its hopes of dampening the row received a blow after the Sunday Express found it had been in talks with the Olympic Park Legacy Company about partnership deals in what will become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games. The Queen has close links with India and the park is being named for her Jubilee.
Dow was made a sponsor of London 2012 by Lord Coe’s organising committee (Locog) in August.
Since then the Sunday Express has led coverage of growing anger in Britain at the move.
Dow spokesman Scott Wheeler said: “The agreement between Dow and Locog was limited to branding of five ‘test panels’ that were to be removed in the months before the Games and were not part of the final design.
“In mid-summer, Locog and Dow discussed Dow deferring the rights to these five panels to allow free and full execution of the design as determined by Locog. Dow agreed to this to support Locog’s and London 2012’s vision for the stadium wrap.”
The Sunday Express understands an unnamed artist now working on the wrap insisted on “artistic integrity”, which meant not using Dow’s logo.
MP Barry Gardiner, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on India, said: “This decision at last indicates Dow is showing some shame and that can only be positive. But we also hope any attempt by it to have a long-term involvement in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are abandoned.”The legacy company said it had been in talks with all sponsors “as a matter of course … to understand their commitment to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games.”
It is not clear what Dow’s involvement might be but a source said “sponsorship”.
Dow did not comment.
It owns Union Carbide, the company that owned and ran a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, where a gas leak in 1984 killed thousands of people in the world’s worst industrial disaster.
Dow never owned or operated the plant in Bhopal and bought Union Carbide in 2001 after the Indian Government had agreed a $470million settlement in 1989.
However, the firm continues to face lawsuits over compensation to victims. It says remediation of the plant is India’s responsibility. The Indian Olympic Association will write to Lord Coe to register its protest.
This is not the end of the story. There are still some major questions to answer around the procurement process for this wrap. Last week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told me that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was directly involved in the comprehensive spending review decision to drop the wrap from the original ODA budget in October 2010. He had been told by Locog that a sponsorship deal was “likely”. Had Dow, which had become an IOC sponsor only three months before that decision, already expressed an interest? These are questions that can now be asked in Parliament and possibly by a select committee investigation.
It has been, and remains, a murky affair that has highlighted the tawdry links between corporate sponsors and the so-called Olympic ideals. Dow is trying to rebrand itself as an icon of “sustainability”, whatever that means. As I’ve written before, Dow undoubtedly does do some positive work, but it should be noted that it has never contributed a penny to any medical appeal in Bhopal. It wants to invest in water purification plants in India, but not in Bhopal where one is desperately needed.
There is something deeply troubling about Dow piggybacking the London Games, which have made a great play of allegedly remediating a former industrial site in east London, when there is such a sinister reminder of its Union Carbide subsidiary’s own legacy still polluting groundwater and maiming children in Bhopal.
When we look at the bigger picture, the real villain in all this is the International Olympic Committee, which gobbled up Dow’s sponsorship money in July 2010. From that moment, Locog was in a difficult position, although it would have been good to have seen Lord Coe show some of the backbone he demonstrated as an athlete, when he was a sporting here of mine.
It is that deal with the IOC which will allow Dow to use the (tarnished) Olympic symbols in its marketing. What we have to watch out for now is a) whether its “sector exclusive” marketing rights allow it to display its brand anywhere else in the Olympic Park; b) how many VIP tickets will it have; and c) any continuing involvement the company may want after the Games (I understand they have discussed some sponsorship deals with the Olympic Park Legacy Company).
Today’s news is a victory but it is not the end.