Bloomberg News

India Wants Dow Dropped as Olympics Sponsor on Bhopal Tie

December 15, 2011

(Updates with Dow’s response in fifth paragraph.)

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- India demanded that Dow Chemical Co. be dropped as one of the sponsors of the 2012 London Olympics, saying it had failed to pay adequate compensation for a 1984 toxic gas leak in Bhopal that killed thousands of people.

Indian Olympic Association President Vijay Malhotra said he’s writing to the International Olympic Committee and the U.K. government to lodge a protest. Malhotra plans a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the issue and will meet Indian officials today to decide on further action.

“The Olympics is about friendship, love and creating goodwill among nations, while this company is linked with the deaths of thousands of Indians,” Malhotra said in a phone interview today. “It’s unacceptable that this company sponsors the Olympics.”

An accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant on Dec. 3, 1984, released methyl isocyanate gas into the streets of Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state in central India. Union Carbide estimated that 3,800 people were killed by the leak. Amnesty International, a human rights group, commissioned a study that showed 7,000 perished within days and another 15,000 died later from exposure to the gas.

Dow didn’t acquire Union Carbide until 2001, 16 years after the “terrible tragedy,” Scot Wheeler, a company spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The purchase occurred 10 years after the Indian Supreme Court approved a $470 million settlement paid by Union Carbide and Union Carbide India, and the court has twice upheld the settlement, he said.

‘Rewrite History’

“The attempts of certain interest groups to rewrite history and attach Dow to a tragedy that the company had no part in is not only wrong but also misleads and misguides those who do not know the facts of the Bhopal tragedy,” Wheeler said. “Dow never owned or operated the site or had any part of the tragedy that occurred.”

The state government of Madhya Pradesh now owns and controls the Bhopal site and has the authority to complete any remediation that is needed, Wheeler said.

More than 11,000 people have signed a petition asking the chairman of the London organizing committee, Sebastian Coe, to end the deal with Midland, Michigan-based Dow, saying it’s against the principles of the Olympic charter to partner with the company.

London beat cities including Paris and New York for the right to host the games next year, the first in the U.K. since 1948.

Dow is a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics through 2020 under an agreement signed with the International Olympic Committee last year. Worldwide sponsors pay an average of $90 million for each four-year cycle.

--With assistance from Jack Kaskey in Houston. Editors: Mark Williams, Simon Casey.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Macaskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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