Three of the London Olympics’ biggest sponsors are being targeted by campaigners ahead of the games over their poor environmental and human rights records.
As the Ecologist reported last year there are fears London’s lucrative sponsorship deals with BP, Rio Tinto and Dow Chemicals are tainting the ‘Olympic spirit’.
Now a new campaign is highlighting the allegedly ‘unethical’ behaviour of all three sponsors and asking the public to vote for its worst.
‘The Olympics are meant to be about so much more than how fast Usain Bolt can run or how many medals Britain's finest athletes score,’ says Meredith Alexander, who resigned as the Olympics ethics tsar over the sponsorship deals. ‘The Olympics is big business. There is an expensive machine behind the Games that is funded by corporate sponsors. Sadly when these sponsors are selected, money talks much more loudly than values.’
Of the three companies BP is the highest profile. The energy giant is London 2012’s official ‘oil and gas partner’ and one of six ‘sustainability partners’. (Alongside energy company EDF, car manufacturer BMW, IT company Cisco, BT, and General Electric).
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP, whose tagline is ‘Beyond Petroleum’, agreed to pay £5bn in damages but still turned a profit of over £27bn last year, largely as a result of newly acquired oil reserves.
Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network, says the company is not one the Olympics should be associated with, ‘BP has bought itself the prestigious title of London 2012 "Sustainability Partner". But this is dangerous greenwash. BP is one of the least sustainable companies on earth, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the extraction of highly-polluting tar sands. Its entire business is geared towards keeping the world addicted to fossil fuels and driving us towards uncontrollable climate change.’
Last autumn an effigy of London 2012 Chairman Lord Coe was burnt in protest over the involvement in the Olympics of Dow Chemicals. The company own Union Carbide Corporation, a company embroiled in controversy following the Bhopal Disaster in 1984 when a gas leak released lethal gas into the town of Bhopal. It is estimated that in days that followed, over 3,000 people died, with another 50,000 requiring hospital treatment.
Colin Toogood, from the Bhopal Medical Appeal says the disaster remains unresolved. ‘The Bhopal disaster site has never been cleaned up and highly toxic chemicals are now found in the drinking water of over 30,000 poor people. If we can clean up the London Olympic site in readiness for the games, why can’t Dow take responsibility for cleaning up Bhopal.’
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt has defended Dow’s involvement to a select committee of MPs saying, ‘Dow is an IOC top sponsor. The ethical practices of our sponsors are very important matters, but it is also something that is looked into exhaustively by the IOC before they make someone a top sponsor. The fact that they did not own Union Carbide at the time of the Bhopal disaster in 1985 nor at the time of a final settlement with the Indian Government in 1989 - that has been upheld three times in the Indian Supreme Court - makes me confident that it was a very reasonable decision.’
Even the production of the iconic Olympic medals has not survived scrutiny. Rio Tinto will exclusively provide the metal for the London’s medals from their mines, including the Bingham mine in Utah, US. The area around the mine suffers from chronic air pollution which has been linked to premature deaths of residents, according to campaigners. According to Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, ‘In Utah, Rio Tinto are the number one emitter of toxins known to cause harm to human health. Every year, between 1,000 and 2,000 Utahans die prematurely due to chronic air pollution and Rio Tinto's Bingham mine is responsible for about 30 per cent of this.’
The three companies have been made the subject of three short films created specifically for the campaign. These are viewable on the campaign website with viewers encouraged vote for the ‘worst corporate sponsor’. The “winner” will be awarded the Greenwash Gold Medal during the games in July.
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