‘And so, while Lord Coe excitedly boasts viewers will be ‘blown away’ by the 14th Paralympic games, thousands of disabled people worldwide look forward to the day figures like his Lordship show a similar interest in those ‘blown away’ by Dow’s merciless chemicals’
~ S U Ahmad
By S U Ahmad in The Platform 30th Aust 2012
Yesterday marked the beginning of London’s 2012 Paralympic games, opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. For the next two weeks we will no doubt hear Lord Sebastian Coe and other LOCOG officials continue to make lofty statements from podiums and stands not just about the games’ alleged spirit of inclusiveness, but also about their role in challenging stereotypes and empowering disabled people. Such pomp and pageantry however, is disingenuous to its core; something recognised by many disability rights campaigners.
For several months the games have courted controversy relating to corporate sponsorship deals from a variety of the world’s murkiest companies. The Paralympic games allow for what The Nation’s Dave Zirin has termed ‘corporate sin washing’, more than any other athletic spectacle.
As many have noted, the list of sponsors is bewildering: from McDonalds and Coca-Cola, partly responsible for obesity epidemics worldwide, to British Petroleum, notorious for off-shore drilling and funding climate change denial.
More recently, in light of the French technology provider Atos’s sponsorship, disabled campaigners and the UK Uncut movement have planned a spate of protests against the company’s involvement in controversial tests to determine whether people claiming disability benefit are ‘fit to work’. Editions of Panorama and Dispatches one month ago exposed deeply upsetting practices within the company, enraging campaigners.
The most outrageous sponsor however, among this motley assortment, is the Dow Chemical company, connected to the world’s deadliest and most disgraceful industrial disaster; one that has to date claimed 25,000 lives and continues to wreak havoc among India’s poorest people in Bhopal. It is also the world’s second largest polluter according to a 2010 US Environmental Protection Agency report, rendering the company’s ‘putting humans first’ tagline laughable.
In what is a bitter irony, whilst reaping the benefits of being associated with games designed to empower the disabled and challenge societal attitudes towards disability, the Dow chemical corporation is simultaneously responsible for wave after wave of severely disabled children in Bhopal, forsaken also by their central government and not at all lamented by the liberal Mr Obama. American concern for the environment in relation to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the punitive treatment of BP, stands in cynical and distasteful contrast to the American government’s protection of Dow from any form of meaningful prosecution over the Bhopal disaster. Just a day before the opening ceremony, on 27 July, Bhopali citizens hosted what they termed the ‘Special Olympics’, featuring over 100 children born with congenital defects.
The aforementioned tragedy however isn’t the only instance in which Dow has created mass disability. The corporation is also tied to the Pulitzer winning picture, depicting nine year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running in a South Vietnamese village whilst being burnt alive by napalm. Dow produced napalm and dioxin containing Agent Orange, deadly defoliants used to facilitate the US military’s scorched earth policy during the Vietnam War, leading to over half a million deaths and generations of disabled Vietnamese citizens. Millions of gallons of both chemicals were manufactured by the company during the 60s and 70s in the face of anti war demonstrations, even when other chemical corporations had refused to become involved.
The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that today up to three million people have been affected by Agent Orange, many of whom are disabled or face serious health problems. 150,000 children have been born with birth defects, although other sources place the figure higher still. With the US refusing to accept responsibility for the outcomes of its chemical warfare, and famously not acknowledging the jurisdiction of any international court, over the years victims’ groups have attempted instead to pursue Dow for its involvement. They have been sent back unsuccessful, insulted, on every occasion. Dow’s 2012 Paralympics sponsorship is perhaps an insult graver still.
Aside from the laudable high profile resignation of Meridith Alexander on Newsnight (here she is in conversation with the Bhopal Medical Appeal’s Alex Toogood about her decision), figures from within LOCOG and the IOC have shown near total indifference to the mass suffering discussed above. Voices of protest such as those from the Vietnamese government, the Agent Orange Action Group, and the Bhopal Medical Appeal, all of whom feel the games facilitate corporate ‘green washing’, decidedly go unheard.
And so, while Lord Coe excitedly boasts viewers will be ‘blown away’ by the 14th Paralympic games, thousands of disabled people worldwide look forward to the day figures like his Lordship show a similar interest in those ‘blown away’ by Dow’s merciless chemicals.
S U Ahmad is the former Politics & Society Editor at The Platform. Alongside The Platform, he has written for pulsemedia.org.uk and Critical Muslim, a quarterly magazine published on Hurst. He can be followed on Twitter @saffi_ahmad.