Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said opposition to his company’s sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics is “beyond belief” because Dow wasn’t involved with the 1984 toxic gas leak in Bhopal that killed thousands of people.
“It was not us,” Liveris said in a Feb. 28 interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “The fact that you can speak back with science and fact rather than emotion and hysteria is your only defense.”
The London games, which start in July, are the first for Midland, Michigan-based Dow under a 10-year sponsorship agreement with the International Olympic Committee. Indian Olympic Association President Vijay Malhotra said in December he would lodge a protest with the IOC and the U.K. government, and 20,000 people have signed a petition asking British authorities to drop Dow.
Liveris, 57, who runs the largest U.S. chemical producer, said it isn’t surprising that there have been protests in the U.K. given the country’s large Indian community.
“We are on the ground there describing to everyone that will listen to us, including the newspapers, what our involvement is with the Olympics and what our involvement wasn’t with Bhopal,” Liveris said.
Union Carbide Accident
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 acquired Union Carbide Corp. in 2001, about 16 years after the accident and 10 years after the Indian Supreme Court approved a $470 million settlement paid by Union Carbide and Union Carbide India.
“To keep coming back to the notion that you acquire a company where there is a bright line on the liability that was settled way beyond your time, and to hook you into that event, it’s beyond belief that people are still trying that,” Liveris said.
“The obvious reason people are trying that is because we are a healthy company with deep pockets that people want a second bite of the cherry on,” he said. “I keep saying, ‘Please go to India, please talk to the government of India and please work it out with them.’”
The IOC said in July 2010 that the top sponsoring companies may pay an average of $90 million for the four-year cycle ending in 2014.
India’s Malhotra said in December he was embarking on a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about Dow’s Olympic involvement.
“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 at the time. “It’s unacceptable that this company sponsors the Olympics.”
Malhotra wasn’t available to comment today, according to a person at his office in New Delhi.
Dow has been monitoring media coverage of Bhopal, including activists such as The Yes Men, according to e-mails hacked from Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based intelligence provider, that were posted this week on the WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks is an organization that publishes secret government and corporate documents online.
Liveris confirmed Dow hired a company to monitor the issue.
“I find it quite interesting that WikiLeaks is out there making a business out of this,” Liveris said. “We hire lots of people to help us with lots of issues. It’s public affairs.”
Liveris said he has no regrets about sponsoring the Olympics.
“We are very proud to be associated, and for that matter the IOC is very proud to have us,” he said.
Dow has supported the Olympics for more than three decades and “is committed to good corporate citizenship,” Emmanuelle Moreau, a Lausanne, Switzerland-based IOC spokeswoman, said today in an e-mailed statement.
“The IOC recognizes that the Union Carbide Bhopal gas disaster in 1984 was a very tragic event,” Moreau said. “The IOC understands that Dow never owned or operated the facility in Bhopal, and that the State Government of Madhya Pradesh owns and controls the former plant site.”
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