At the launch event of the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign we heard from representatives of communities affected by the environmentally and socially destructive activities of three Olympic sponsors – Rio Tinto, Dow Chemical and BP. Our guests had travelled from across the world to give testimonies of their peoples’ sufferings.
First, we heard from five different communities affected by the mining activities of Rio Tinto. Cherise Udell from the activist group Utah Moms for Clean Air told us that pretty much everything in Salt Lake City including the their newest museum bears Rio Tinto branding. It turns out more Utah mums were meant to travel with Cherise to London but one by one the women dropped off the list because either their husband or another relative had a financial connection to Rio Tinto or because supporting campaign would jeopardise their job. The message: Rio Tinto owned their town and fighting the corporation was an incredibly difficult job.
Representing Bhopalis was Farah Edwards Khan, a survivor of The Bhopal Gas Tragedy Farah was 10 when the explosion took place which is estimated to have killed 8000-10,000 people on the night of 2nd / 3rd December 1984. Since then, thousands of people have died or have developed cancers and other life threatening diseases, and the site has still not been remediated by Dow Chemical (who now own the Union Carbide factory). On a previous occasion, Farah had said to me that she was three miles away from the factory and these 3 miles was the difference between life and death. At the launch event, Farah reminded us that many young people were not aware of the world’s worst industrial disaster, despite the tragedy continuing until this day. It struck me how important campaigns such as Greenwash Gold 2012 are in keeping the memory of tragedies such as Bhopal alive so that one day the perpetrators can be brought to justice.
Finally, we heard from communities affected by BP. BP isn’t just a sponsor of London 2012, it is a Sustainability Partner, which is the funniest and sickest joke I have ever heard. We heard from Clayton Thomas-Muller, a tar sands campaigner from the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Bryan Parras and Derrick Evans who represented communities affected by the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Last Thursday, I had the honour to take part in a direct action inside BP’s AGM with these community leaders and 10 other London based environmental activists. One of my roles was to ask the board of directors what return shareholders can expect from sponsoring cultural events such London 2012. Much to our surprise, Iain Conn, the Chief Executive for Refining and Marketing admitted the aim of the sponsorship was “brand protection and connection with customers and society”, and to “enhance their relationship with strategic commercial partners”. Put simply, such sponsorship deals give BP, Rio Tinto, Dow Chemicals a social license to operate.
This sentiment was echoed by a someone in the audience who pointed out that pretty much every sponsor of the Olympic – EDF, Adidas, Coca Cola, Atos, BT, G4S - has a terrible social and environmental track record, and awarding gold to one of three highlighted sponsors is almost an arbitrary exercise. This comment and BP’s admission in the AGM goes to the crux of why the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign is an important one. The ONLY reason such corporations bother to sponsor the Olympics (instead of spending their money cleaning up affected sites or investing in the environmental and social health of the communities they work in) is to divert the public’s attention from their destructive practices. Each of these corporations have powerful PR machines spinning rosy pictures and it takes the tremendous courage and commitment of activists, such as of our guests, to keep the truth alive. The London 2012 sponsorship is a done deal but we as campaigners, activists and good citizens need to expose the sponsors’ greenwash because by doing so we effectively take away their social license to operate. You and me need to make it loud and clear the destructive practices of these sponsors is Ecocide and therefore do not deserve to be associated with the Olympics ideals (although I do admit the modern day manifestation of the Olympics is a far cry from the Ancient Greek ideals).
What you can do: Watch the three short animations films, vote for your most unethical sponsor and spread the word far and wide. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, dog walkers, baby sitters, local corner shop keeper, bus driver, whoever. The more people vote for their most unethical sponsor, the more successful we will become in taking away these corporations’ social license to operate.