Outrage over Olympic corporate sponsors erupting around the world

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Corporatization of the coming Olympic games in London is under attack from all corners of the world, it seems.

While the American AFL-CIO has joined a movement to stop the alliance between the International Olympic Committee and Rio Tinto - which is to make the Olympic gold medals - and Vietnam and India are up in arms over sponsorship by the notorious Dow Chemical Company.

Both India and Vietnam are united in their desire to remove Dow, which signed a 10-year sponsorship agreement with the International Olympic Committee, from the games, but their reasons are different. For India, the problem is that Dow purchased the company responsible for the infamous Bhopal disaster, while for Vietnam the issue is the corporation's production of Agent Orange used to maim its people and defoliate its countryside during the war in the 1960's and 70's.

The chemical, dropped and sprayed from U.S. planes to kill vegetation and make it harder for Vietnamese resistance fighters to hide, brought major devastation to the country.

According to Nguen Van Rinh, president of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, speaking to mark the 50th year of the "Agent Orange catastrophe," the U.S. dropped about 80 million liters of chemicals on Vietnam, 61 percent - 20 million gallons - of which was Agent Orange. In southern Vietnam, a quarter of the area was covered.

Hoang Tuan Anh, Vietnam's Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee asking the agency to sever ties with the chemical giant. "Dow Chemical expressed their indifference and refused compensation for victims of the Agent Orange produced by the company, as well as their responsibility to clean up contaminated areas," Hoang wrote.

"Spending zero effort to recover their mistakes in the past, Dow continues to destroy the current living environment. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed Dow as the second worst polluter in the world."

About 4.8 million Vietnamese were affected by Agent Orange, and up to half a million children were born with birth defects due to the chemical. Even now, the nation is trying to undo the effects of the chemical.

Vietnam Women's Union President Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa, writing to the International Olympic Committee, expressed dismay at the alliance between Dow and the games, saying, "Dow refuses to accept responsibility or makes compensation to tragic victims."

"We are concerned that the acceptance of Dow sponsorship will negatively influence the image and reputation of the Olympic Games," she continued. "With the functions of representing and protecting rights and interests of women in Vietnam, the Vietnam Women's Union would like to call upon IOC to reconsider your decision to accept Dow Chemical Corporation as a sponsor of the Olympic events, thus preserving the good images and reputation of the Olympics."

After the war the chemical caused illness and death among civilians in the United States. The company unloaded waste by-products from its Agent Orange production facilities and those were sold as dust control agents to municipalities in America. The entire town of Times Beach, Mo., was contaminated and had to be abandoned after the chemical was sprayed on all of its dust roads.

Many in India are upset because of the Bhopal gas leak disaster. While Union Carbide was the company that caused the troubles, Dow has been seen to inherit the guilt, because it acquired the company.

The disaster took place Dec. 2, 1984, when poisonous gas leaked from the plant, thus exposing hundreds of thousands of people. According to the government of the Indian state where the gas leak occurred, 3,787 people died from the exposure, and more than half a million were injured.

But the official estimate may be an understatement: According to The Bhopal Medical Appeal, "Municipal workers who picked up bodies with their own hands, loading them onto trucks for burial in mass graves or to be burned on mass pyres, reckon they shifted at least 15,000 bodies."

The Indian government battled with the company, trying to get the business to pay for its mess. "Dow's unwillingness to fulfill its legal and moral obligations in Bhopal represents only the latest chapter in this horrifying humanitarian disaster," says Bhopal Project. "For 26 years, the victims of Bhopal have continued to demand justice; the only question is: will we listen?"

For both Vietnam and Indian victims of Bhopal, the idea of a supposedly "green" Olympics being sponsored by a company responsible for some of the worst environmental and humanitarian disasters in history is reprehensible.

On this side of the Atlantic, the AFL-CIO's demand that Rio Tinto be barred from sponsorship is due to the company being, as the labor federation's President Richard Trumka describes it, "a union-busting global mining conglomerate with a track record of worker and environmental abuse."

Trumka sent his own letter to the IOC, saying, "Every athlete who competes in the Olympics deserves to be supported by entities that exemplify the best spirit of the games. Rio Tinto's treatment of USW members in Alma [where it locked out 750 workers] abundantly proves that it is not such an entity."

The AFL-CIO joined forces with the United Steel Workers and others in the movement to kick Rio Tinto "off the podium."

Activists and leaders in each country and organization argue that these corporations are using the prestige of the Olympics, as well as its environmentally friendly image, to "greenwash" rotten corporate images.

Photo: Corporate logo at 2008 Olympic handover party. Tim Bradshaw // CC 2.0

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  • Here's another one: Stop G4S!
    The international security company G4S provide prison personnel and equipment in Israeli jails, many of which hold Palestinians, without trial and also provide maintenance services at checkpoints and Israeli police stations in the West Bank. This means that not only do G4S directly contribute to the illegal occupation of the West Bank, they also profit from it. Outside of Israel, G4S has a horrific reputation in regards to human rights but despite this they are the official providers of security at the London Olympics.
    This is for UK citizens can sign: http://www.psc.iparl.com/lobby/85/0/G83+8LB/true

    Posted by Sadie, 06/22/2012 8:36am (2 years ago)

  • Both India and Vietnam are united in their desire to remove Dow? But they allow the United States in the Games after they dropped 80 million liters of Agent Orange on Vietnam? very interesting article.

    Posted by greg, 06/14/2012 7:46pm (2 years ago)

  • In regards to Bhopal, it is not only the aftermath of the gas leak, but the ongoing WATER CONTAMINATION that is a problem. Union Carbide had been improperly disposing of toxic waste in and around factory grounds, which then leached into the soil and groundwater. They also abandoned their factory, leaving behind even more chemicals. People in Bhopal have been drinking this poisoned water for over 27 years.

    The water contamination issues were not covered in the court case against Union Carbide. When they were acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001, Dow inherited these liabilities and has refused to do anything about them. They claim they have no responsibility because they didn't cause the gas leak, and that is entirely beside the point. India's Polluter Pays law requires that whoever caused the pollution is responsible for cleaning it up. Since Dow bought Union Carbide, Dow is now responsible for addressing the concerns in Bhopal.

    I personally find it disgusting that a company like Dow is sponsoring what is being promoted as the "green" Olympics, when they continue to let people suffer the aftermath of Bhopal (and Agent Orange). They've also polluted the local river in Midland, MI, the city where their headquarters is located, with dioxin. This sponsorship is just another example of how they are trying to erase their toxic legacy.

    To "A Chemical Engineer's View," posted below: You say that "Dow has in deed provided aid to the area families." As far as I know, Dow has continually refuse to have anything to do with Bhopal and have provided no aid that I know of. Could you please share your source?

    All of my information comes from www.bhopal.org, the website for the Bhopal Medical Appeal and www.studentsforbhopal.org, the website for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. I encourage you to check them out.

    Posted by Caitlyn, 06/11/2012 12:50pm (2 years ago)

  • Ok so, how about a letter shot off to "those countries", telling them to just pull out of the Olympics and keep their athletes home. And no I do not endorse war reparations(sp) to the Vietnamese and have 58,000 good reasons why. How long after United States Armed Forces withdrew from The Nam did it totally colapse? About 20 minutres or so !! That ten year Trojan War was a beach.(sp)

    Posted by M.D. Henderson, 06/11/2012 7:06am (2 years ago)

  • This information needs greater US mainstream publicity. The Olympic Games are primary promoters of posititive globalization through healthy competition that overcomes unhealthy rivalries. Corporate sponsorship is an important element in making the Games available to multi-media viewers everywhere in the world's 200 nations. Like ordinary people, corporations should be cited for the virtues as well as the flaws in their make-up.

    Posted by helen fogarassy, 06/10/2012 2:16pm (2 years ago)

  • Lets not forget the children and grandchildren of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange/Dioxin. They suffer from birth defects, auto immune and rare diseases, mental health illnesses, and learning disabilities. Many are unable to get help they desperately need and deserve because there is no facility to help them. To learn more visits our website. Sharon L. Perry, Founder

    Posted by Sharon L. Perry, 06/10/2012 10:17am (2 years ago)

  • Regarding Bhopal, The Dow Chemical Company purchased the Union Carbide facility 10 years after the disaster. In fact, while it was not any negligence on the part of Dow that lead to the gas leak, Dow has in deed provided aid to the area families and maintains superior safety standards and practices in all their facilities.

    Regarding Agent Orange, it is my understanding that the US government contracted MANY US chemical companies to make defoliating agents. This was not a request, and the companies did not have the right to refuse. How these chemicals were used was the choice of the US government and military, not Dow Chemical or any of the other chemical companies that were instructed to supply.

    It would be great to give equal time to the chemistry that provides clean drinking water, prevents and heals disease, prevents injury, keeps us warm, keeps us cool, create energy alternatives, allows us to innovate technology, and much more.

    I think it’s completely appropriate that a science-based company like Dow is an Olympic sponsor.

    The industrial accident in Bhopal and use of deadly chemicals in Vietnam, while tragic and still in need of our global attention and support, are not the wrong doing of the Dow Chemical Company.

    Posted by A Chemical Engineers View, 06/09/2012 8:12pm (2 years ago)

  • Dow Chemical is without any doubt guilty of the murder of many thousands of Vietnamese babies, children, teenagers and veterans due to being affected by Agent Orange, yet even today 51 years after the spraying of 80 million litres over Southern Vietnam they refuse to accept responsibility or make any conpensation to the 4.8 million Vietnamese affected.

    During my recent visit in May I met with a number of these tragic victims. How the IOC and Lord Coe, Chairman of the London Olympic Committee can make Dow a sponsor of the Games until 2020, can only mean one thing: MONEY overcomes the Olympic Spirit.

    Shame of both organisations.

    Posted by LenAldis, 06/09/2012 2:28pm (2 years ago)

  • Mr. Margolis the US Government was responsible for the Agent Orange catastrophe since they were the ones who dropped the chemicals on Vietnam. Not the Manufacturer....So if a person shot you with a Winchester rifle, would you be blaming the person who shot you or Winchester? So if someone driving a Ford crashed into you and injured you, would you blame the driver or Ford? Great Article, However bad analogy.

    Posted by greg, 06/08/2012 11:40pm (2 years ago)

  • Regarding Bhopal, it is my recollection that Union Carbide settled the case with the Indian government. I believe the settlement was covered by insurance. If I am wrong about this I am sure someone will straighten me out.

    Posted by John D. Sens, 06/08/2012 8:56pm (2 years ago)

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