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Protests planned in India over Dow's link to Olympics

In this Dec. 5, 1984 file photo, two men carry children blinded by the Union Carbide chemical pesticide leak to a hospital in Bhopal, India. The tragedy left an estimated 15,000 people dead. AP Photo/Sondeep Shankar, File

Sondeep Shankar/AP

Anger is mounting in India at the appointment of Dow Chemical as a 2012 Olympics sponsor, marking the fiercest criticism yet of the London committee's sponsorship and program.

The London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) recently selected Dow to produce a sustainable fabric "wrap" for the Olympic stadium that will display digital images. This is Dow's first engagement with the 2012 Games since signing a 10-year agreement with the International Olympic Committee last year to become a worldwide Olympic partner.

However, activists say that allowing Dow to sponsor the London Olympics "legitimizes" the company's links to the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster, which killed at least 8,000 people.

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In 1999 Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide – the company that was running the plant in India when a gas leak quickly became one of the world's worst industrial accidents. LOCOG has stressed that "it is a matter of record that the plant at the time of this human tragedy was not owned by Dow Chemical."

However, campaigners, who put the death toll from the accident as high as 25,000, say they are planning protests in Bhopal, Delhi and London. They are also asking the Indian government to officially protest against LOCOG's decision.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, activists from groups such as the Bhopal Group for Action and Information, asked the prime minister to lobby the Indian Olympic Association on their behalf.

Mannish Tiwari, a Congress party MP in India, said if the families of Bhopal victims approached the government with concerns about Dow's role in the Olympics, it would "surely" look into the matter.

Activists are circulating a petition among athletes in India proposing to boycott the 2012 Olympics if Dow retains its sponsorship – a move which is said to have drawn support from former world field hockey champion Aslam Sher Khan.

Vinuta Gopal, a campaigner for Greenpeace India, said: "When Dow Chemical has not addressed their responsibilities in Bhopal, they simply should not be associated with an event like the Olympics."

LOCOG said that Dow was only appointed as the supplier of the estimated £7-million ($11-million) Olympic stadium wrap after a "rigorous procurement process," adding: "All of our suppliers must work within our own sustainable sourcing code and reflect our values and sustainability requirements."

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Dow Chemical said: "Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant, and the legal claims surrounding the incident were resolved in 1989, long before Dow acquired Union Carbide, we – along with the rest of industry – have learned from this tragic event, and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements to ensure that such incidents never happen again. While the past must never be forgotten, our position as a Worldwide Olympic Partner represents our vision for the future."

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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