London 2012 Sustainability Commissioner quits over Dow sponsorship

Meredith Alexander, Sustainability Commissioner and Ethics Adviser to Lord Coe & LOCOG, quits over Dow Chemical sponsorship:

The London 2012 Olympic Games were embroiled in further controversy last night as Meredith Alexander, a Sustainability Commissioner and Ethics Adviser for the games, resigned live on the BBC’s flagship news program Newsnight. In an interview with Jeremy Paxman she announced that her position at the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL) was no longer tenable in light of the LOCOG’s continued relationship with and defence of the Dow Chemical Company.

She stated, into TV cameras; “By coming on air tonight, I’m taking the decision to resign my position and stand up for my principles… I feel that I was part of a body that has been used to legitimize Dow’s involvement in the games.” She went on to state that while Dow Chemicals have an ‘army of PR people’ she hoped that her resignation could bring some attention to the continuing plight of victims in Bhopal.

Ms. Alexander appears live on the BBC's Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman to announce her resignation from the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012

The Dow Chemical Company took over Union Carbide corporation in 2001, but neither company have addressed the ongoing issue of water and soil contamination in Bhopal that continues to kill thousands and inflict even more with chronic illnesses. Lord Coe and LOCOG have been criticised for allowing Dow Chemical’s the opportunity to sponsor the London 2012 stadium.

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’.

Further into the Newsnight interview, Ms. Alexander hinted at a developing crisis within the CSL regarding the Dow issue and stated that some of her fellow commissioners were also “very concerned” but she would not comment on the prospect of further resignations.

Dow Row: An artist's interpretation of what a Dow Chemical sponsored Olympic stadium might look like

Ms. Alexander’s resignation raises fresh concerns over LOCOG’s claims that they are running an ‘ethical and sustainable’ Olympics. It has also emerged, via Ms. Alexander’s resignation statement that Shaun McCarthy – chairman of the CSL – had failed to consult any of his 13 fellow commissioners when he gave a green light for Dow’s contract. Ms. Alexander argues that this has seriously undermined the credibility of the Olympic watchdog and that her resignation was partly based on this. She stated that she had no choice to resign because the Commission was effectively allowing Dow to “use the Olympic flag to whitewash its reputation.”

Ms. Alexander, an acknowledged expert on sustainability and human rights issues, launched a furious attack on the Dow Chemical Company and condemned their refusal to accept liability in Bhopal. “I don’t want to be party to a deffence of Dow Chemicals, the company responsible for one of the worst corporate human rights violations in my generation…”

She also drew a distinct line between the debate about the 1984 gas-disaster, caused by Union Carbide, and the current tragedy, which she argued is Dow’s problem. “This is not a historic disaster, it is ongoing, and attempts to clean up the area have been woefully inadequate. I want to see Dow publicly admit responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy, to clean up the contaminated site, and to compensate victims.”

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP and chairman of the Labour Friends of India Organisation, has actively campaigned with supporters of Bhopal to have Dow dropped as an Olympic sponsor. On the subject of Ms Alexander’s resignation he said that “Meredith has had the courage to stand up and say what everybody should have known all along; that Dow Chemicals were not a suitable partner for a Games that has prided itself on being the most sustainable ever.”

The issue of Ms. Alexander’s resignation has come at a sensitive time and will seemingly reignite a crisis of legitimacy over Lord Coe and LOCOG’s claims that London 2012 will be based on sustainability and ethics. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said; “Meredith Alexander has made a brave and principled stand. She obviously shares our outrage at this association and it is a shame that her concerns, like ours, have fallen on deaf ears.”

The Dow Chemical company has dismissed Bhopal campaigners as “small but noisy groups.” With Ms. Alexander’s resignation, cross-party support from various British and Indian politicians as well as an online petition that has attracted over 18,000 signatures, it seems that the Bhopal “noise” is set to continue long into 2012.

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