Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor


5:57 pm - July 29th 2012

by John B    


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Mr Boyle’s Olympic kick-off was bloody amazing. I was cynical about the whole scenario, but it was one of the actual best things ever. Celebrating the things that make the UK worthy of having, not the Michael Gove crap. Culturally, beautifully excellent.

The Olympics, being sponsored by people with money, are sponsored by a wide variety of organisations who do terrible things. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola do, well, come on, you’re human and capable of reading. Visa have barred people with Mastercards from using their cards in the vicinity of the arena. This shit is disgraceful.

Meanwhile, 28 years ago, a company in India that was 50% owned by the government and made pesticides that were used as part of Indira Gandhi’s great leap forward, which ended starvation in India, disasterously fucked up. Here’s everything.

In short, the Indian management fucked up, and the American joint owners failed to impose the same standards that they would and should have imposed in a plant in America. And the Indian government didn’t give a shit because they owned half of the factory. Meanwhile, the city government decided that allowing thousands of people to build a slum right next to the chemical factory wold be fine, even though everyone’s advisors had told them that it would be a disgrace.

So the Bhopal Union Carbide factory exploded – rather like Chernobyl, after the people in charge did things that were so insane that the people who designed the plant thought nobody would ever even. And the people who designed it are culpable for the fact that the idiots running it could ever even.

The Indian Union Carbide Company – the American firm’s  joint venture with the government – was bankrupted by this. All of the capital of that company went to a compensation fund administered by the Government of India. The American owner of half of the company gave extra money to the compensation fund, on top of giving up all its assets in India. The Indian company was resold – with all the proceeds going to the compensation fund – as the Everready Company of India.

14 years ago, the Dow Chemical Company of America bought the assets of the American Union Carbide company (the company that had already surrendered all of its Indian assets and given extra compensation that went far beyond the value of any business that it ever did in India). Over the last 14 years, the trustees of the billion dollars that were paid to the compensation fund were squandered by assorted crooks, spivs and general bad people. Those of us who are acquainted with the Indian legal system will understand how this works.

Dow are doubtless an evil corporationy corporation. But holding them responsible for Bhopal is insane. It’s the equivalent of holding the new owner of 10 Rillington Place responsible for the bodies found in the basement, rather than the actual murderer. Dow had no involvement in Bhopal, it bought Union Carbide after that company had settled liability for the case with the Indian government, surrendered all its Indian assets and paid a great deal of additional compo.

It’s curious that the people who carp about Dow don’t carp about Everready India or about the Indian government, both of which are far more responsible on any sane level for Bhopal than Dow Chemical is. The racism under which only whitefellas are responsible for ever doing bad things, and if an Indian company run and owned by Indians kills Indians and if the gigantic compensation fund created is stolen, then it must be the whitefellas’ fault, is pretty revolting is it not?

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About the author
John Band is a journalist, editor and market analyst, depending on who's asking and how much they're paying. He's also been a content director at a publishing company and a strategy consultant. He is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy and also blogs at Banditry.
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Story Filed Under: a) Section ,Law ,South Asia

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Reader comments


1. Big Mac Large Fries

[deleted]

I see your general point, John, but some ref. to who the people doing the ‘carping’ are and what exactly they’re carping about would be helpful. at the moment it’s a bit straw man- like as an article.

The title bears little relation to your argument, which isn’t a comparison with other sponsors, but I guess that’s a Sunny-ism. My articles often suffer from this.

I don’t see why people whinge about corporate sponsors at London 2012 anyway. As sponsorship of major sporting events go the Olympics has always been pretty subtle and clean (no adverts can be seen around the venues, compare this to Euro 2012 which had advertising all around the pitch, or the Barclays Premier League, as even the BBC must call it)

And please also appreciate that if there were no sponsors then LOCOG would have to pay for the games by either charging spectators more for tickets or with taxpayers money.

@3: if there were no sponsors then LOCOG would have to pay for the games by either charging spectators more for tickets or with taxpayers money.

Or, more likely, the games would be arranged somewhere else. Paris was the runner-up, I think. They would have had a different set of sponsors, but getting just the same kind of bashing as here, except more of it would be in French so it would annoy or entertain a smaller number of people.

Ok, thanks TONE @5. That’s helpful

In that piece there’s no allegation that Dow was responsible for the disaster in the first place. Rather there seems to some kind of allegation that Dow didn’t clean up contaminated groundwater. I’ve no idea whether this was something they promised as part of the purchase deal, or whether – as John seems to suggest – this is a demand made by ‘carpers’ long after the event and which Dow had never had any responsbility for.

And of course there may be other ‘carpers’. But the article simply doesn;t make clear what the accusations against Dow are. So over to John….

“The racism under which only whitefellas are responsible for ever doing bad things, and if an Indian company run and owned by Indians kills Indians and if the gigantic compensation fund created is stolen, then it must be the whitefellas’ fault, is pretty revolting is it not?”

Why do people do this sort of fact-free interpretation of why they think people do things?

I see anti-capitalists point about the corporate sponosrship of the Olympics. But I do get a sense that it is as much about anoyance that people will be chowing down on McDonald’s and Coke at the Olympics instead of posh organic food.

“not the Michael Gove crap…”

Shakespeare?

The industrial revolution?

Sporting achievement?

Language?

Brunel?

Invention?

You lot are so tribal it’s a joke. This kind of comment is 0% different to the one made by that nutter Burley.

“Dow are doubtless an evil corporationy corporation”

Oh yes, doubtless they are ‘evil’. What is this? Jackanory for communists?

10. Chaise Guevara

@ 9 tory

“Shakespeare?

The industrial revolution?

Sporting achievement?”

Wanting to co-opt history lessons to push his patriotic values?
http://www.keen2learn.co.uk/news/news/history-lessons-based-on-fact-not-games-on-truth-say-parents/

“Oh yes, doubtless they are ‘evil’. What is this? Jackanory for communists?”

It’s a reference to Team America: World Police and kind of a self-deprecating joke when used by a liberal.

Also, John B is to the best of my knowlege, so I don’t know who this “you lot” is of which you speak. Generalise much?

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Dan Factor

“But I do get a sense that it is as much about anoyance that people will be chowing down on McDonald’s and Coke at the Olympics instead of posh organic food.”

A sense, eh? Where does this sense of yours come from?

“Wanting to co-opt history lessons to push his patriotic values?”

Not ‘his’ patriotic values, but the British history and values we generally saw on display actually. Your opposition is built on a pile of strawmen – e.g Gove is going to indocrinate children with patriotic conservatism. This is Cuba/Venezuela stuff ( historically lefty stuff), not British and certainly not conservative. We don’t want politics in schools full stop.

On the general point of corporate sponsorship the obvious point is someone always needs to pay. This is always the case, except in ‘lefty-land’ with its money tree round the back of Number 10. Personally, I think it is a bit rich for lefties to moan about this today. For one thing, Boyle did insert a blatantly political ode to our greatest national delusion – the ‘greatness’ of the NHS.

I never thought that an article on a liberal left blog about a corporation could be more disingenuous than the same corporation’s own website (www.bhopal.com, maintained by Union Carbide) in which it gives itself a clean chit and presents the theory (which it has maintained from the start) that it was actually a sabotage, that they know who the saboteur was, but wouldn’t give the name because ‘it wouldn’t serve any purpose’. That official theory, however, is so ridiculous that even this author doesn’t bother with it. The official theory also maintains that the safety measures were tip-top, as opposed to citing poor management by the Indian management. (“… a technical team from Union Carbide visited the Bhopal plant to conduct a routine process safety review, and identified some safety issues to be addressed by the plant. The plant addressed all of those issues well before the December 1984 gas leak. None of them had anything to do with the incident.” – from http://www.bhopal.com). But the author is right (if he indeed meant to say that) about the poor safety standards and violation of safety regulations, which emerged during the court proceedings, in contrast to UC’s claims.

Now, Union Carbide owned 51 % of the company. The rest was owned by private investors in India, some financial institutions and the government of India (GoI). That’s a minor point though, but is indicative of the care taken (or even the malice) in writing this article.

Now, regarding the claim that the company was operated and managed solely by the Indian management. According to UC”s manual, ‘Except for certain situations, it is the general policy of the corporation to secure and maintain effective management control of an affiliate. Normally this is accomplished through ownership of 100 per cent affiliate equity where this is consistent with laws, policies and customs of the host country.’

Now, UC was deemed a low-technology company by the GoI and, according to its regulations, couldn’t hold more than 40% equity. But due to UC’s clout with the US govt, “ultimately, the GoI succumbed to the pressures of companies such as UCIL and relaxed its guidelines — it was named ‘amplified guidelines’!”

(http://www.rediff.com/news/column/bhopal-the-deception-by-union-carbide-and-dow/20100617.htm)

UC was thus allowed to hold 51%. So UC waged a long battle with the GoI to acquire managing control over the Indian company, only to give the management control solely to the Indian company?

And as opposed to what the general tone of the article suggests (“must be the whitefellas’ fault”), almost everybody in India knows who was the main culprit in this tragedy – the GoI, for its terribly incompetent handling of the situation, by settling for a paltry amount based on the initial utterly low casualty estimates (UC’s toxicology advice was that there would be no harmful long-term effects on anybody), by forbidding the victims to sue UC, by letting the CEO of UC escape, by letting UCIL sell its stakes against the advice of the district govt so that UC could get rid of its liabilities cheaply, and in countless other ways. A foreign company was, of course, going to wash its hands off the tragedy. That the govt let it happen, seemingly very deliberately, was the saddest part.

All of this is probably grey area in corporate legal system. And I don’t know if Dow inherits, along with the assets, the liabilities of UC in India, but Dow did pay for the liabilities of a company that it bought in the US. The difference then seems to be the pliability of the governments and legal systems.

What is missing in the article is that even the US courts have formally acknowledged that UC’s liability for present-day environmental pollution is separate and distinct from its liability for the 1984 disaster. UC of course maintains that its site is not causing any ground-water pollution and refuses to pay for cleaning up too. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=groundwater-contamination-india-pesticide-factory)

This article also doesn’t mention the amount that was paid to the victims. (Well it seems to say that the corrupt govt didn’t pay the victims at all). Well, PR officer for UC, Kathy Hunt had this to say (later retracted): “You can’t really do more than that, can you? $500 is plenty good for an Indian”.

And I have only touched the surface of the farce involved, in this hasty comment. Someone really interested can read a lot (including Dow’s and UC’s actual positions, instead of this rather horrible defense) from –
http://bhopal.bard.edu/about/
http://www.bhopal.org/

I don’t care much about who sponsors the Olympics. (I loved the opening ceremony, especially because of the tribute to the NHS.) But that is because I don’t expect such events to actually represent some values (whatever they maybe). I, nonetheless, laud the member of the IOC who resigned for showing solidarity with with the victims of the tragedy.

Correction – Kathy Hunt was the PR head of Dow, not UC.

Also, I should add, for all its efforts of distancing itself from Bhopal, Dow engaged a spy agency ‘to spy on the public and personal lives of activists involved in the Bhopal disaster’. (e-mail leak by Wikileaks)

Average monthly income of workers in Bhopal at the time of the disaster was around $20, rising to around $150 today. (Source, NIC). If compensation was paid it amounted to around 9 years wages for death and 2 years wages for injury. This is comparable with British levels, and India has a British, rather than American legal system.
The facts are relatively clear. Union Carbide India was sold off and sale proceeds of $470 million put into a compensation fund. The Indian Government agreed that that was the limit of UC Inc.s liability. With other money already paid by UC that added up to over half a billion, rather than a full billion But still quite a lot. So far, the families of the 4000 or so dead are supposed to have received about $90 million (4,000 times $2,200). The injured are supposed to have received around $125 million (25,000 times $500). The whereabouts of the balance of the money is not clear, and some of the money officially paid to the injured or the families of the dead may have been stolen.
When Dow acquired UC Inc., UC Inc.s India liability had been extinguished. So although the Bhopal victims have been badly served by their government, painting Dow as the bad guys seems to be an effort to get the white guys to put up money to offset the incompetence or wickedness of the brown ones. Innit.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 tory

“Not ‘his’ patriotic values, but the British history and values we generally saw on display actually.”

No, they are his values. Such values differ from person to person; the ones he holds are evidently his.

“Your opposition is built on a pile of strawmen – e.g Gove is going to indocrinate children with patriotic conservatism.”

I never said conservatism. He DOES want to inculcate patriotism though. So your “pile of strawmen” is a single and wholly accurate comment by me, which was then straw-manned by you.

Nice.

“This is Cuba/Venezuela stuff ( historically lefty stuff), not British and certainly not conservative.”

Ah. So a conservative British Conservative is bringing this in, but it’s neither British nor conservative. I guess you can make that true if you close your eyes tight and wish really, really hard.

Yeah, this sort of stuff has historically happened in left-wing places. It has also historically happened in right-wing place. It happens everywhere. The case under discussion is being brought in by a right-winger. Deal with it. Refusing to admit that your “side” is capable of doing anything wrong doesn’t make you strong, it makes you incapable of accepting reality.

“We don’t want politics in schools full stop. ”

Soo… you write this rather desperate defence of Gove, then in your final line admit that you agree with me, not Gove. I’ve having trouble working out what was going through your head when you pressed “submit” if I’m honest.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. eleanor

    Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor http://t.co/JR1i4tIQ

  2. John B

    Here's a blog I wrote. I hope it's not the last piece I ever write for LC. http://t.co/X2jfJjXX

  3. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor http://t.co/zVDkvNq4

  4. Alex Snowdon

    Liberal Conspiracy could, ahem, really do with a greater focus on sub-editing: http://t.co/yOWCAZFy

  5. Chris Dillow

    Here's a blog I wrote. I hope it's not the last piece I ever write for LC. http://t.co/X2jfJjXX

  6. Alexandre Delaigue

    Here's a blog I wrote. I hope it's not the last piece I ever write for LC. http://t.co/X2jfJjXX

  7. Dave Harris

    Fair comment, i think RT @libcon Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor http://t.co/mGZtNCVX

  8. Bob Castle

    Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor http://t.co/JR1i4tIQ

  9. Cllr Lee Reynolds

    Here's a blog I wrote. I hope it's not the last piece I ever write for LC. http://t.co/X2jfJjXX

  10. BevR

    Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/gnw1CDHj via @libcon

  11. representingthemambo

    Interesting, to say the least! "Dow is the least disgraceful Olympic sponsor" | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/HiJcYOCa via @libcon





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