Richard Solly describes the Greenwash Gold 2012 Campaign, which aims to expose the unethical and unsustainable practices of some of the companies sponsoring the Olympics: BP, Dow Chemical and Rio Tinto. Richard is the Co-ordinator of the London Mining Network and has worked on Indigenous rights and mining issues for over twenty years and is also an active member of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign.
Which company most deserves the Greenwash Gold medal in 2012? Which one is covering up the most environmental destruction and devastating the most communities while pretending to be a good corporate citizen by sponsoring the Olympic Games? With so many controversial companies providing sponsorship, it’s a pretty tough call to make, but UK Tar Sands Network, Bhopal Medical Appeal and London Mining Network got together earlier this year to propose that BP, Dow Chemical and Rio Tinto each get a medal, and invited the public to vote online for the worst of the three. We commissioned three short animated videos which you can watch at www.greenwashgold.org/
In recent weeks there have been a number of actions targeting these companies. The Reclaim Shakespeare Company staged a ‘guerrilla’ theatre performance before a performance of the Comedy of Errors, put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company and sponsored by BP, at the Camden Roundhouse as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Drop Dow Now protesters carried out a ‘die-in’ at the Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square as part of an international protest coordinated with groups in India, the US and Canada. These and various other actions have taken place in the context of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) refusing to meet with campaigners to discuss their concerns over the Olympic sponsors, despite repeated requests over the last six months. The Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign also took their message directly to the door of LOCOG with giant dummy megaphones and a banner, but once again LOCOG refused to engage even though Lord Coe himself had recently said that he would be happy to meet those demonstrating to discuss the serious issue of toxic corporate sponsorship.
BP is heavily involved in the tar sands project in Canada, possibly the most destructive industrial project in history, causing massive deforestation and water pollution, violating Indigenous rights and affecting Indigenous communities’ health, and making a catastrophic contribution to climate change. The company is also responsible for last year’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and, despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster having permanently destroyed large portions of the Gulf Coast, BP is proudly restarting its deepwater drilling. It is also exploring the Arctic, where the volatile conditions make a Gulf-like spill both more likely to happen and much harder to control. Yet, despite all this, BP has been appointed the ‘Sustainability Partner’ for the Olympic Games, which means the company has been granted one of the best opportunities possible to develop its greenwash campaign, even though their so-called sustainability activities around the Games consist of promoting agrofuels and not much else. BP is also the Official Carbon Offsetting Partner of the Games and, not only that; it is the Official Oil and Gas Partner, which demonstrates how unsustainable the company actually is and highlights the absurdity of even the weakest uses of the term ‘sustainable’ being associated with BP.
By buying the Union Carbide company, Dow Chemical is connected to the 1984 Bhopal Gas disaster, when a pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, released 27 tonnes of lethal gases, killing around 25,000 people, maiming over half a million others, and creating an ongoing medical catastrophe. It bears responsibility for the toxic pollution that, to this day, forces thousands of people to drink water heavily contaminated with highly dangerous chemicals, yet the company refuses to assume responsibility for one of the worst corporate crimes in history. Dow has a long, sordid, history of environmental crimes spanning many decades. The company produced Agent Orange to be sprayed up on innocent Vietnamese people; it developed napalm into a lethal weapon of mass destruction; it has bribed officials in order to register banned, dangerous pesticides; and it has regularly poisoned the rivers and the air around its factories. The Greenwash Gold coalition is chaired by Meredith Alexander, who quit as a commissioner for the London 2012 sustainability watchdog over Dow’s $100m (£63m) deal with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its agreement with London organisers to fund the £7m wrap that will surround the stadium.
Rio Tinto is one of the world’s biggest mining companies and has provided the metal for the Olympic medals. Almost all of that metal comes from the company’s Bingham Canyon mine in Utah. It contributes around 30% of the air pollution in the Salt Lake City area, and this air pollution contributes to hundreds of premature deaths each year. A small amount of the metal for the medals comes from the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, which is disrupting Indigenous herders’ livelihoods and threatening water supplies. Rio Tinto has been associated with environmental destruction, human rights abuses, militarisation, violation of Indigenous land rights, and union busting around the world. At the end of 2011 it locked out workers from its aluminium smelter at Alma, Quebec, in a dispute over job security. The workers are still locked out at the time of writing.
The Greenwash Gold 2012 Campaign culminated in a mock ‘awards’ ceremony at the Olympic Clock in Trafalgar Square. The winner was revealed to be Rio Tinto, however, it was decided that all three companies should be awarded gold medals in recognition of their greenwashing efforts. Three people pretending to be corporate representatives from BP, Dow and Rio Tinto were awarded their medals, before having small quantities of green custard poured over their heads. The good-natured performance took about 15 minutes and clearly amused a number of passers by.
After the ceremony was over and the performers were packing up, about 25 police officers arrived and arrested six people, including the three ‘corporate representatives’ and people who were mopping up the small amounts of custard on the ground with paper towels.
When confronted, the police officers alleged that ‘criminal damage’ had been done by custard falling on to the stone surface of Trafalgar Square. Before the arrested were even driven away, the controversial custard had been completely cleaned up leaving no trace whatsoever.
The huge over-reaction is another example of how corporate interests are prioritised over the right to protest, and how the police are used to help greenwash the olympic sustainability sponsors and their environmentally destructive practices.