Last November Society Matters published a post on Dow Chemicals sponsorship of the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Dick Skellington updates.
Now the Olympics is underway, with criticism for the Olympic organisers over-plugging fast food giants McDonalds, Cadbury's and Coca Cola sponsorship, Dow's involvement has been kept largely in the background, except in India where protests have continued. Now a new controversy had arisen, this time over Dow's involvement in the manufacture of Agent Orange, which was dropped on Vietnam by the US in the 60s and early 70s.
Dow and UCC are still defendants in ongoing litigation in India over cleaning up the Bhopal factory site.
The Indian government has filed a fresh demand for $1.1 billion in compensation from Dow, but Dow continues to deny responsibility for the legacy of the disaster. On the eve of the opening ceremony Dow remained bullish about their involvement.
We thought it worth drawing attention again to Society Matters' contribution to the Bhopal debate. Read the original post in full here.
But Bhopal is not the only ghost haunting these Olympics. Just before the games opened Vietnam made an official complaint to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about Dow's sponsorship. Dow was responsible for the manufacture of Agent Orange, the code name for herbicides and defoliants used by the US military as part of its warfare programme in Vietnam. The Vietnamese sport minister Hoang Anh Tuan conveyed his 'profound concern' over Dow's involvement with the London Olympics.
Following the normalisation of relations between the US and Vietnam in 1995, the US Government promised funding for clean-up operations, but these operations have been confined to 'hotspots', former airforce bases in the war- avaged country where Agent Orange was stored, rather than across the millions of acres affected where populations lived. Agent Orange was dropped on Vietnam for 12 years.
According to available studies the Agent Orange campaign destroyed 10 million hectares of agricultural land and some 20,000 sq km of upland and mangrove forests. Agent Orange contains dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known, and scientists estimate that as little as a few parts per billion can be damaging. Estimates of people affected by AO range from 2.1 million to over four million, and the Vietnamese government blames it for cancers and birth defects in some 500,000 second and third generation children. The Vietnam Red Cross has reported that as many as three million Vietnamese have been affected by AO, including at least 150,000 children born with birth defects.
Nguyen Van Rinh, a retired general and head of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange, explained: “I believe that many Vietnamese are angry with the decision of the Olympics 2012 organizers. And this is completely justified."
A group of over 100 Vietnamese plaintiffs had taken their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, suing both Dow and Monsanto for AO damage. The case, which began in 2004, was thrown out in early March 2009 with the court ruling that there was no established link between dioxin use and birth defects in Vietnam. Under U.S. law, Dow and Monsanto cannot be held responsible since they were acting under government orders.
Reacting to Vietnam’s letter of protest to the IOC, Dow explained that the US War Production Act absolves the company given that it was compelled by the US government to produce the defoliant.
Replying to the Vietnamese protest Lord Coe described Agent Orange as "a highly emotional issue" whose development and use "was made by the US government. He referred to a "constructive dialogue" between the US and Vietnamese governments "to resolve issues". They are "best placed to manage the reconciliation of these two countries." Nothing there about the sponsorship. Indeed the response to the Vietnam complaint is similar to that from Bhopal. These are past sins, committed by previous Dow regimes: the current Dow sponsorship should not be jeopardised.
See also John Pilger's article on his own website just before the games opened.
Dick Skellington 1 August 2012
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.