Activists fighting for the cause of the Bhopal gas disaster survivors have been trying to get the organisers of the London Olympics to cancel their 7 million pound sponsorship deal with Dow Chemicals, the company that bought over Union Carbide in 1999 -- so far to no avail. Now, Meredith Alexander, a member of the body that oversees the sustainability of the London Olympics has resigned in protest at the sponsorship. She resigned live on the BBC's flagship news programme, Newsnight.
Alexander, who was one of the 13 Ethics Commissioners for the Games, late Wednesday quit her unpaid role, protesting against thedeal with the chemical giant, which is linked to Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster that claimed thousands of lives.
The Games' organisers chose Dow to make the hundreds of plastic panels that will 'wrap' the outside of the main stadium until the inauguration, in a contract that has angered many Indians, including current and former Olympic athletes.
Activists say 25,000 people died in the years that followed the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide owned pesticides factory in Bhopal -- the film 'Bhopali' by Van M. Carlson , recently screened at Open Space in Pune, vividly documents the struggle of the survivors, particularly the children, many of whom are still being born with birth defects.
Campaigners have demanded that Dow boosts a 1989 compensation package for those affected by the disaster. On its part, Dow has denied any responsibility for the accident and says the former owner, Union Carbide, had settled its liabilities with the Indian government.
Dow Chemical is currently a named respondent in two court cases pertaining to the Bhopal disaster and Dow’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide, is involved in a US court case relating to the ongoing contamination. Union Carbide is also still wanted on criminal charges in India and the Indian courts have stated that Dow is ‘harbouring fugitives from justice’.
Meredith Alexander, who sat on the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, said she had decided to quit the independent body because she "didn't want to be party to a defence of Dow". According to her, the decision to involve Dow was taken unilaterally by the head of the Commission.
"People should be free to enjoy London 2012 without this toxic legacy on their conscience", she said in a statement released by rights group Amnesty International, which has supported her cause.
"It is appalling that 27 years on, the site has still not been cleaned up and thousands upon thousands of people are still suffering."
Amnesty said the Games' organisers should admit they were wrong in awarding the contract to Dow, who are also a worldwide partner of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
"This high profile resignation means the London 2012 organisers can no longer ignore human rights concerns about Dow, a company that has refused to meet its responsibilities in relation to the victims of Bhopal," Amnesty's Seema Joshi said in a statement.
Bhopal gas tragedy survivors and activists welcomed Meredith Alexander's resignation.
"At least she had the courage to take such a strong step even being in London... it also exposes our officials and leaders who have no guts..." said Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan.
The five organisations who work for the cause of gas survivors felicitated Alexander by placing a bouquet of pink roses in front of her picture.
Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Stationery Karmchari Sangh said: "By speaking the truth so boldly Alexander has nailed Dow Chemical's lies that the London Olympics (organising) committee and its chairman, Lord (Sebastian) Coe, believed and propagated till recently. We hope this will make the committee dump Dow Chemicals as a sponsor of the London Games."
Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action hoped that Alexander's resignation would prompt the Indian government to express its opposition to Dow Chemical's sponsorship more effectively.
"To be taken seriously by the London Olympic Committee, the Indian government has to do more than send a protest note. It is time for LOCOG to be told that India will not take part in the London Olympics if it continues to be sponsored by a corporation responsible for continuing death and suffering in Bhopal," she said.
-- based on articles by Avril Ormsby/Yahoonews and IANS.