Sign the Petition Against Dow at the Olympics

I know that politicians and people in power can be notoriously out of touch with reality, and we’ve seem some spectacularly tone deaf policies from the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently… but the Dow Chemicals sponsorship of the London Olympics really takes the biscuit.
Bhopal is a town in Madhya Pradesh, India.  In 1984, a gas plant run by Union Carbide malfunctioned and poisoned at 3,787 to death.  Almost thirty years on, the total number of gas-related deaths to date may be closer to 15,000 with the Indian Government saying that up to half a million people had suffered health problems as a result of the disaster.
Union Carbide, the company responsible for the disaster, is now owned by the Dow Chemical company. Dow deny that they are culpable, despite the numerous convictions of Union Carbide employees in Indian Courts.
The IOC says that because Dow only bought Union Carbide in 2001, that they were not responsible for the accident and the deaths.  However, that’s not how things work.  When one company buys another, they buy the brand and the liabilities of that company as well as their assets.  Wehn Dow bought Union Carbide, Dow legally became Union Carbide – their histories and destinies become intertwined.
Even if the Dow/Union Carbide version of events is true (something that the people of Madhya Pradesh and successive India Governments consider complete baloney), the fact is that a gas leak at their plant ruined the lives of many lakhs of people.  While litigation continues, this company should not be allowed to sanitise their reputation through the sponsorship of London 2012.  It is deeply inappropriate for the International Olympic Committee (hardly a paragon of virtue itself) to take Dow’s money.

7 Replies to “Sign the Petition Against Dow at the Olympics”

  1. Even if the Dow/Union Carbide version of events is true (something that the people of Madhya Pradesh and successive India Governments consider complete baloney)…
    The Indian government is hardly impartial here. I recently saw a case study on the Bhopal disaster as part of my work, and there are two things which never get mentioned in the media about that accident:
    1. All the management decisions which contributed to the disaster were made by Indians. True, they were working for Union Carbide, but they were not Americans (the Yanks might like to take note of this in the context of the Macondo disaster). So, given the decisions were made by local managers of Union Carbide, how many of those have been held to account by the local authorities? AFAIK, none. It is hard to see how Union Carbide in the US is responsible if the local managers who brought about the disaster are not.
    2. Union Carbide in the US wanted, and indeed tried, to close the plant down because it was losing money and thus essential maintenance was not being carried out*. The local (i.e. state) government intervened and practically forbade Union Carbide to shut the plant as it provided employment to thousands of people in the area. Had the local government not intervened for political reasons, the plant would have closed and the accident not occurred. So does the Indian government acknowledge that political meddling in the operation of the plant contributed to the accident? No, of course not.
    Note that I’m not defending Union Carbide here. The accident occurred on their facility, they are responsible, they didn’t handle it as they should, compensation was and is due and should be paid. But if a precedent is set that local management is not going to be held accountable for their decisions and actions in the event of an industrial disaster, then this puts decades of local-content agitation on the part of local and national governments out the window (something the Indians will not like one bit). And it will seriously erode the case for a government – and unions – having any say in the management and operation of industrial facilities (something I think the corporations would like very much).
    *Indicentally, I also did a case study on Flixborough during the same session. In short, maintenance was not carried out because the plant was losing money. It was losing money because the price of the feedstocks had gone up but the government set the price of the product. When the management asked the government to increase the price of the product, they refused. No money, no maintenance, disaster. There’s a lesson in both of these events.

  2. Okay, my bad: the Indian UC employees were convicted, albeit decades later.
    Also, I don’t see why Dow should be barred from sponsoring the Olympics on the grounds that it bought a company which had an accident and subsequently reached a settlement with the courts in India. Sure, additional litigation is ongoing, but I’m struggling to see why this should bar them.

  3. Sorry, but one other thing:
    However, that’s not how things work. When one company buys another, they buy the brand and the liabilities of that company as well as their assets.
    Union Carbide sold the Bhopal site in 1994. By your criteria above, the company they sold it to now has the responsibily of the site, not Dow.

  4. If a company- Dow – is responsible 16 years after the Bhopal disaster. because it bought Union Carbide then where is it in the queue of those responsible.
    * Are the customers of U.C.C. responsible as they drove down the product price…..
    leaving no money for maintenance.
    * Is the Indian government responsible because it didnt enforce safety or allow the
    unsafe plant to be closed.
    * Are the suppliers at fault for charging too much….and inhibiting maintenance profits
    * Are you responsible for not boycotting U.C.C. products.
    It goes on and on. But if you hold that Dow should not be allowed to support the Olympics then;
    The Indian team – sponsored by its government – perhaps should be banned
    The British people – who bought U.C.C. batteries etc. – perhaps they should be banned
    British Industry – who supplied some of the infrastructure – perhaps they should be banned.
    Oh lets just ban the whole Olympics! After all its a Greek idea and didnt they have some nasty colonels in charge 1o years ago. Oops! Ban them and their olympic ideas.
    How silly can a petition get!!!

  5. Tim
    I would love to see evidence of the Union Carbide Board being “forced” to stay in Madhya Pradesh. Board minutes or memo perhaps?
    Second point – it is incorrect that the Bhopal Site was sold. UCC and Dow “merged” which means that all litigation would now belong with Dow.
    Read this (re my merger point):
    (the Indian government is not the only State to protest this)
    If it is indeed a merger, then Dow still has obligations to clean up the site and work on the toxicity. The whole area is still poisoned, and kids keep being born (even today) with defects. a
    And the whole time dow lies to the olympic committee, lies to the world and we allow an organisation like that to be a sponsor for the world’s (not just GB’s, not just Europe’s, but the world’s) biggest games, eschewing all concept of global cooperation and the olympic ethical sponsorship code. This aspect of london 2012 is a disgrace, where it is made abundantly clear that money has spoken louder than morality.

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