Here we Coe again

Everybody’s talking about it – Wiggins pipped the competition to the post for the third time in a year, making a hat trick out of his wins.  But also last night London 2012 chief Lord Coe was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Sports Personality show. He spoke of legacies, and of never forgetting – and all the nostalgia took me hurtling back to the halcyon days of summer when we were asking Lord Coe please don’t DOW it.

In case you missed it, we were urging Lord Coe as the head of LOCOG (the London Olympic organising body) to reconsider the appointment of Dow Chemical as the sponsor for a decorative wrap to adorn the Olympic stadium. The fabric wrap reportedly cost £7m.

To recap: Dow Chemical is the 100% owner of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), and has been since 2001. UCC is the company that controlled a pesticide plant in the town of Bhopal in India where, in December 1984, a highly toxic gas spilled from the plant. Winds spread the poison through a densely populated area. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people died in the immediate aftermath, and a further 15,000 over the next 20 years. More than 100,000 people continue to suffer from serious debilitating health problems. Children born decades after the spill are, staggeringly, still drinking water that flows from the polluted site.

The fight for justice for the victims of the Bhopal disaster was made a lot harder this year, thanks to statements from LOCOG which said that, contrary to Amnesty’s extensive research, they don’t accept that Dow Chemical bears responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. This was a slap in the face for victims of the disaster, still campaigning for justice from Dow in both the Indian and the US courts, as well as pushing for Dow to clean up the mess left behind.

Whilst campaigners succeeded in making some noise about the sponsorship scandal - including the resignation of one of the ethics commissioners who oversaw the Olympic legacy, and bringing an art installation about the tragedy to East London just before the games kicked off and sending e-mails to him from more than 7,500 people –  our demands – that Lord Coe retract statements he had made defending Dow, apologise to the Bhopal victims and recommend that future Olympic hosts consider the ethical and human rights records of potential sponsors before they’re appointed, ultimately fell on deaf ears.

It has been quite a year for Lord Coe. For the people of Bhopal, it has been just like every other year since 1984.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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