LONDON (Reuters) - A member of the body overseeing the environmental and ethical impact of the London Olympics said she quit her post on live television to give victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster in India a voice in their fight against U.S. firm Dow Chemical.
Dow was chosen by Games organisers to make the hundreds of plastic panels that will decorate the outside of the main stadium in a sponsorship deal that has angered many Indians, including current and former Olympic athletes.
Activists say 25,000 people died in the years that followed the gas leak at a pesticides factory in the central Indian city of Bhopal. Dow bought the plant’s owner Union Carbide in 1999 and campaigners have demanded that it boosts a 1989 compensation package for those affected by the disaster.
Meredith Alexander, who sat on the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL), which effectively audits the London organising committee’s (Locog) environmental and ethical decisions, quit during a live BBC programme late on Wednesday.
“I feel Dow Chemicals has been given a platform to air their side of the story, but really nobody has been talking to the victims or the families of people who lost loved ones in the tragedy,” she told Reuters on Thursday.
“I am not a victim and I can’t pretend to speak for them but what I can do is make sure that some of their views and concerns are voiced.”
Alexander, who worked for CSL on a voluntary basis 20 days a year alongside her post at the charity ActionAid, said she did not want to be part of a body that “became an apologist” for Dow Chemicals.
One of 12 CSL commissioners, Alexander said she knew of “a number of people (on the body) who are deeply disturbed” by Dow’s sponsorship, but did not know whether they would resign.
She called on Dow to clean up the Bhopal site and for Locog to cancel the contract, arguing the stadium wrap was just an aesthetic add-on.
Dow, which is also a worldwide partner of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has denied any responsibility for the accident and says Union Carbide had settled its liabilities with the Indian government.
Tarlochan Singh, vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association, told Reuters by phone: “This resignation today is a boost to our demand that the International Olympic Committee should disassociate itself from the Dow company.”
Locog’s Chief Executive Paul Deighton said he was “absolutely comfortable” with its decision.
“I think the real question that needs to be asked is what happened to the money that Dow paid and what’s happening in India in terms of the responsibility to clear-up that site,” he told Reuters.
The wrap threatens to become an issue in this May’s London mayoral election, with Labour’s candidate, former mayor Ken Livingstone, calling on incumbent Boris Johnson to find another sponsor.
“The controversy over Dow’s sponsorship over the Olympic stadium threatens long lasting damage to the reputation of the Olympic Games and to the reputation of London,” Livingstone said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Georgina Cooper in London and Matthias Williams in New Delhi, editing by John Mehaffey