Representatives of the 800,000-strong Hindu community in the UK will meet on Tuesday night to rally opposition against Dow Chemical being a major sponsor of the London Olympics.
The company’s sponsorship of a wrap around the Olympic stadium has already raised the threat of a boycott of the games by India.The meeting, hosted by the Hindu Forum of Britain, an umbrella organisation for nearly 400 Hindu groups, comes as new details have emerged of the government’s involvement in the sponsorship deal with Dow, which owns the company responsible for more than 15,000 deaths from poisoning in Bhopal, India.
Government emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the idea of finding a private company to sponsor the Olympic stadium wrap – Dow’s most high-profile involvement – came from the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt.And, although the department of culture has said it did not know the sponsor was Dow, it had been kept informed of negotiations over the deal for weeks before it was announced. The department has insisted that the deal was handled by the 2012 London Organising Committee, Locog, “operating independently of government”.
In her invite to the meeting in London to discuss protest measures, Bharti Tailor, the forum’s secretary general, said the group actively supported the Olympics, but urged members to take a stand against companies which “continue to trample over society”.”Locog believes that this is purely [a] Hindu issue, let us prove them wrong and make it clear that it is a moral and ethical issue that is not restricted to India and Hindus,” she added.Three emails from the summer of 2010 to May 2011 refer to the idea for a private sponsor for the wrap coming from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in particular. An official wrote that “there should be some recognition of” Hunt’s sponsorship idea when the deal is announced.
Another email on 23 May 2011, from David Goldstone, a director of the Government Olympic Executive at DCMS, says Locog is “close to a deal on the wrap, along the lines we discussed a few weeks ago”. The Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson, previously said the department first knew about the deal with Dow two days later, on 25 May.An email of 25 May to Goldstone says: “The deal with Dow has been agreed but the contract is not yet signed … [Name deleted] was under the impression that Locog comms were already talking to [DCMS] press or comms?” Goldstone replies that they are not aware of “any existing comms contact”. The deal was announced in August.
Barry Gardiner, chair of the Labour Friends of India group of MPs, said: “Mr Hunt asks us to believe that although the sponsorship of the wrap was his idea and although his closest advisers had, by their own admission, been discussing it with Locog for several weeks, the name of Dow Chemical had never crossed his mind.”He asks us to accept that the tender process was transparent and fair when the closing date was set just 10 days after it [the tender] was released. My strong view is that any court examining the evidence would regard Mr Hunt’s testimony as “unreliable” and conclude that Dow had been lined up as the sponsor before the deal was ever put out to tender.”
A spokesman for DCMS said, however, department officials did not know Dow’s identity during the negotiations. “As part of its relationship with Locog, DCMS will often enquire about the progress of various projects as part of its overall responsibility for assuring that Locog is able to deliver the Games,” he added.The International Olympic Committee and Locog have consistently argued Dow has no ongoing liabilities for the 1984 disaster, which occurred before Dow bought the company responsible, Union Carbide.
Dow declined to comment on the specifics of the emails. But in a recent interview with the Guardian, its vice president of Olympic operations, George Hamilton, said: “There were six or seven companies that submitted tenders. The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 determined that the process was robust and Dow’s was the best offer by far in terms of sustainability.