AID Austin seeks support in removing Dow Chemical’s Olympic sponsorship

Lydia Herrera

Volunteers from the Association for India’s Development laid down under white shrouds next to the West Mall on Friday to urge students to sign a petition to remove the Dow Chemical Company from sponsoring the 2012 London Olympics.

A gas leak more than 27 years ago in Bhopal, India killed an estimated 20,000 people, and survivors and human rights groups are fighting for Dow to take responsibility for the leak, volunteer and engineering graduate student Parvathy Prem said. Members of AID laid down under the shrouds to represent the bodies the gas leak left behind.

The disaster in Bhopal occurred the night of Dec. 2, 1984 at a plant owned by Union Carbide and caused thousands of deaths and far more injuries. The leak released 27 tons of methyl isocyanate gas.

In 2001 Dow bought Union Carbide, and it is now a fully owned subsidiary, Prem said. She said according to India and U.S. law, when a company acquires another, it attains both their assets and their liabilities, but Dow continues to claim they are not responsible for the effects of the gas leak.

“What’s even worse is that the factory site was never cleaned up,” Prem said. “There are still around 350 tons of toxic waste leaching into the ground.”

The 2012 Olympics is set to have Dow as a major sponsor and will cover the entire stadium with a white banner displaying the red Dow logo, Prem said.

“It sends the completely wrong message, when you have a company that has been declared a fugitive from justice and refuses to do what is the legally and morally right thing as a sponsor for an event like the Olympics,” Prem said. “It’s massively damaging to everything the Olympics stand for and sends the wrong message about corporate responsibility to other companies all across the world.”

The goal is to acquire enough signatures to approach current and former UT Olympians and urge them to issue a statement asserting their opposition toward Dow’s involvement in the Olympics, said Vinay Pandey, who sits on the advisory board for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

“The whole theory behind the Olympics is to uphold spirit, steadfastness and righteousness, and this is completely against any of these three principles,” volunteer and electrical engineering freshman Manav Mandhani said.

Representatives of Dow did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Pandey said children continue to be born with deformities and nearly 150,000 people are still suffering congenital and mental illnesses and neurological,
respiration and sight problems.

In 2006 Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly passed a resolution calling on the University to refuse to accept funds received from Dow, but President William Powers Jr. did not sign it, Pandey said.

“One of the things this university stands for is freedom,” Prem said. “We know what the truth is and because the University receives a certain amount of money from Dow, [the University is] refusing to take a stand. I think the University’s official stand directly contradicts the values it claims to stand for.”

Printed on Monday, December 5th, 2011 as: Group aims to remove Dow sponsorship