Bhopal victims urge UK government to drop Dow as 2012 sponsor

The Bhopal disaster is the worst industrial tragedy in India's history. Here, protestors demonstrate in 2006.

Story highlights

  • Indian group protest to UK government over sponsorship deal for London 2012 Games
  • Group angry Dow Chemical Company signed 10-year Olympic contract in 2010
  • Protestors claim Dow is involved in avoiding liability in Bhopal tragedy of 1984
  • IOC says it sympathizes with demonstrators' position but defends Dow deal

Victims and campaigners from the Bhopal disaster of 1984 have staged a "die-in" outside the UK's sports ministry to protest at the sponsorship role Dow Chemical Company will play in the London 2012 Olympics.

The demonstrators object to the International Olympic Committee's 10-year deal with Dow, who in 2001 became owners of the firm that caused one of the worst industrial disasters in India, when nearly 4,000 people were killed by a gas leak at the Union Carbide plant.

An estimated 45,000 others were said to be affected by the emission of poisonous gas at the site in Bhopal, which has caused cancer, disability and renal failure.

The demonstrators want the Indian government to boycott the 2012 Games if the IOC keeps Dow as a sponsor, and said they will continue their protests after the Olympic body insisted their partner was not responsible for the tragedy.

The campaigners are lobbying the UK government to rectify what it claims are "transparent errors of moral judgment and legal reasoning" in its failure to remove all support for Dow's sponsorship.

India's government has written to the IOC to ask it to drop ties with Dow, while the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has threatened to withdraw from the Games if no action is taken.

In a letter to the IOA, Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, said: "IOC recognizes that the Bhopal tragedy in 1984 was an horrific event for India and the world.

    "The Olympic Movement sympathizes with the grief of the victims' families and regrets the ongoing suffering people face in the region.

    "Dow had no connection with the Bhopal tragedy. Dow did not have any ownership stake in Union Carbide until 16 years after the accident and 12 years after the $470 million compensation agreement was approved by the Indian Supreme Court.

    "We only enter into partnerships with organizations that we believe work in accordance with the values of the Olympic Movement."

    But with the Indian Supreme Court reviewing the case for a third time, the protestors claimed Dow was engaged in an "unethical refusal to deal with its unresolved legal and moral liabilities in Bhopal."

    They also claimed Dow are misrepresenting facts and "prolonging the suffering of thousands of people in Bhopal, including that of unborn generations."

    Officials from the protest group met with representatives from the UK's high commission and handed over a petition complete with 21,000 signatures that asked for Dow to be dropped as an Olympic sponsor.

    Dow will provide the decorative wrap for London's Olympic Stadium, while its products will be used in the running track, hockey pitches and in stadia, accommodation and the broadcast center.

    A company spokesman said it has sympathy for the victims of the Bhopal tragedy, but that responsibility for finding a solution "rests in the hands of the Indian central and state governments."

    "The Supreme Court of India directed the Central Government to address additional needs of those impacted -- should there be any -- in a review of the settlement agreement in 1991 and the State Government of Madhya Pradesh has ownership of the Bhopal plant site," Dow said in a statement released to CNN.

    "The fact is that Dow never owned nor operated the Bhopal plant, nor has the company acquired any part of the Bhopal plant or issues related to it. Dow was never there. The settlement of the incident between the Government of India, Union Carbide and Union Carbide India Limited occurred in 1989, long before Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide in 2001.

    "Those trying to attach Dow to the incident are misinformed or misguided. The fact is that Dow has been an industry leader in developing performance improvements to ensure that such incidents never happen again."