Dow’s Paralympic Sponsorship Insults the Disabled

by Saffi Ullah Ahmad

In what is a bitter irony, whilst reaping the PR benefits of association with the 2012 Paralympics, the Dow Chemical Corporation is directly responsible for wave after wave of disability in faraway lands.

Today begin London’s 2012 Paralympics, set to be opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. For another two weeks, we will hear Lord Sebastian Coe and other LOCOG officials’ lofty statements not just about the games’ alleged spirit of inclusiveness but also about their role in the empowerment of disabled people and the challenging of misconceptions around disability. Such pomp and pageantry however, is disingenuous to its core, something recognised by many disability rights campaigners.

Dogging the games for several months now has been controversy relating to corporate sponsorship from a variety of the world’s murkiest companies. The Paralympic games allow for what The Nation’s Dave Zirin has termed ‘corporate sin washing’ more than any other athletic spectacle.

As many have noted, from McDonalds and Coca-Cola, partly responsible for obesity epidemics worldwide, to British Petroleum, notorious for off-shore drilling and funding climate change denial, the list of sponsors leaves one bewildered.

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London 2012 and the Bhopal Disaster

by Saffi Ullah Ahmad

As the 2012 London Olympics approach, a furore has erupted surrounding the £7m sponsorship of the games by the controversial Dow Chemical Company, which is connected with the world’s worst industrial catastrophe, in the Indian city of Bhopal. Lingering effects of the disaster continue to kill and maim people trapped by poverty.

The company has been commissioned to produce a specialized decorative wrap for the Olympic stadium.  Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, and leading human rights groups including Amnesty International have expressed dismay at the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG)’s decision and rumours have circulated regarding a possible Indian boycott. In protest to the deal, thousands of survivors of the disaster burned effigies of the chairman of London 2012, Lord Sebastian Coe, on Friday. A larger group of protestors blocked five of Bhopal’s train lines on Saturday 3 December, the 27th anniversary of the disaster, in the face of fierce police beatings.

Gross negligence on the part of the Union Carbide Corporation, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow, culminated in a fatal explosion in a pesticide factory on 2-3 December 1984, releasing 40 tonnes of highly toxic gas which laid waste to one of the poorest regions in India.

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Bhopal 26 years later

by Saffi Ullah Ahmad

Editor’s Note: For backround on the Bhopal disaster click here.

Friday marks the 26th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial catastrophe, the Bhopal Gas Disaster, which brought to light in the most horrific of ways the darker side of economic globalisation. The disaster saw the lives of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Indians destroyed as negligence on the part of a US multinational led to the escape of over 40 tons of ultra-hazardous toxic gasses from a poorly built pesticide factory, laying waste on an entire city.

Although estimates vary, the current death toll is thought to be 25,000, and those seriously injured number well over 100,000. These numbers are still rising due to the thousands of tons of abandoned chemicals continuously polluting the Bhopali environment (with increasing concentrations in the soil and drinking water), and gas-affected survivors giving birth to children with serious genetic malformations.

To date, justice has evaded Bhopal victims and their families, who continue to suffer with a vast range of crippling disabilities as well as psychological trauma. The multinational behind all this — Union Carbide Corporation, now owned by the Dow Chemical Company — continues to exploit the inadequate framework of the Indian legal system and has been aided by indifference and at times probable collusion by the central government which dubiously insists it has always acted in the best interest of the victims.

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The Bhopal Disaster: an ongoing tragedy

by Saffi Ullah Ahmad

Recent talk surrounding BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to corporate negligence has drawn light on the Exxon Valdez disaster and one which devastated one of India’s poorest regions with its effects still very much raw and constantly ignored by the US media. Obama’s anti-BP rhetoric has spurred many of those affected by this disaster to point out Western double standards.

The old plant (Photo: Christian Saltas)

Twenty five years after the world’s biggest industrial disaster, Union Carbide’s old pesticide factory remains untouched, haunting the crowded city of Bhopal, a constant reminder of the region’s darkest night.

On the night of 3 December 1984 the lethal gas methyl isocyanate (MIC) alongside other noxious fumes, engulfed the city of Bhopal and killed thousands. It is thought that the disaster has claimed 25,000 lives thus far, and adversely affected over 500,00. Gross negligence by Union Carbide is widely viewed as the cause of the tragedy.

Earlier last week, after a quarter century of waiting and sloppy, almost reluctant court action, lamentable sentences were passed down to seven Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) officials. Sentences of two years were administered to some of those presiding over the corporation when the tragedy occurred; a small group of incredibly wealthy Indian men, all in their 70’s, one of whom is a billionaire, and none of whom are expected to serve their sentences. In addition to the sentencing, each of the seven men were fined a paltry £1400, an amount which would barely pays for the yearly healthcare of one of the victims, let alone serves as meaningful punishment for this appalling crime.

These convictions are so far the only to have materialised in a case that was opened the day after the tragedy in 1984. Those ultimately responsible for the tragedy, namely the corporation’s CEO and equally negligent Western officials, remain unpunished.

Survivors and campaigners have been outraged, calling last week’s decision an ‘insult’. However, as we are about to see, this is only the most recent of a long history of insults.

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