Monday, 30 January 2012

Olympic-sized dilemmas

The London 2012 Olympics have been in the news recently over its plan to use a wrap for the Olympic stadium made by Dow Chemicals of the US. The problem is that Dow bought Union Carbide in the 1990s, a company whose failings were responsible for the terrible Bhopal disaster in India which killed and injured tens of thousands and caused extensive environmental degradation. Victims of the disaster still maintain that they have not been adequately compensated and the Indian Supreme Court settlement which was meant to draw a line under the compensation claims is being challenged.

The dilemma is: how far is any organisation responsible for the actions of its partners, or in this case, purchases? Legally, the position is that Dow is not liable and the Olympic organisers are relying on that judgment when selecting Dow as a sustainable supplier. It is possible that Dow didn’t do sufficient due diligence and that the Olympic movement, as Dow is a sponsor of the International Olympic Committee, has not done sufficient due diligence and that there are facts that are still to come out. If so, these are likely to come out around the time of the Games as it is a powerful platform for making a point with the world’s media watching.

One member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 resigned in protest over the Commission’s apparent support for the wrap sourcing. We can all respect her decision, because the Bhopal tragedy is so ingrained on our memories and emotions. But how far does that perceived ethical responsibility go beyond legal responsibility? It really is very hard to say, particularly in this complicated case where mistakes have been made on all sides. In being green and responsible, just how far along any chain can the claims of decency and integrity go?

As the public statements show, the Commission, which checks and audits the sustainability of London 2012, takes the view that it is more useful to ask the awkward questions about this and similar matters, than rule on a case where there are few precedents or examples of good practice. Maybe that will look week in the eyes of the public and politicians, and maybe, if new facts come to light, such a decision will need to be reversed. We’ll see.

But this does show just how difficult environmental and social responsibility can become. Perhaps it is one version of the sins the fathers being visited upon the children.

David Jackman

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