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Who is Going to Win at the London Olympics?

Folk wisdom in my native Lithuania suggests, “Admit a pig into a church and it will climb the altar.” It’s possible that the pig is not accustomed to such picturesque surroundings, but I’m inclined to believe the pig is simply not religious.

Or maybe the pig wants to fool others at the pigsty – and the world at large – that it’s much better, cleaner and more responsible than it really is?

This summer, London will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The list of things that are wrong with London 2012, as the Games are commonly known, is quite impressive – from displacing the poor to tightening control of civil liberties, from environmental ignorance to shameless slaps in the face: for example, the good food tsar McDonald’s will have its largest-ever “restaurant” in London’s  Olympic village. McDonald’s, together with another healthy life advocate Coca Cola, are the official food and drink sponsors for London 2012.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

But in essence, this is no different from what other companies with social and environmental records devils themselves would envy are doing with the Olympics: masquerading as model corporate citizens, they’re trying to brush their crimes under the carpet. Enjoying a smooth ride on the Olympic vehicle, they intend to clean up their reputation instead of cleaning up their mess and making sure it never happens again. Instead of being good, they pay to be seen as such.

The other day I attended the launch of Greenwash Gold 2012, a new campaign that exposes these greenwashing practices and calls for more responsibility from Olympic organisers. “How are sustainability partners chosen? It appears that the only criterion is money,” said Jess Worth of UK Tar Sands Network. “This is a systemic problem within the Olympics.”

Many of the London 2012 sponsors have dodgy trails of destruction and irresponsible activities: Adidas, the official sportswear partner, is engaged in sweatshop affairs in Bangladesh, where it pays workers 9 pence (14 US cents) an hour to produce clothes Olympic athletes will be wearing; EDF, the energy company that charges ordinary people in Britain prices they can’t afford, thus contributing to fuel poverty; Atos, an IT company complicit in condemning disabled people for life without state support, and many others.

Fair play, huh.

“But why are you surprised?” asked a member of the public at the launch event. He said London 2012 expresses values similar to those held by these appalling corporations: profit above all, at any cost, by whichever means necessary. Whatever happened to respect, courage, inspiration, equality, determination, and excellence – the real Olympic and Paralympic values? They’re buried under a thick level of shameless greenwashing, but we can still dig them up, if only we choose to.

Here are the three finalists for the Greenwash Gold 2012 award. The challenge now is to decide which one to vote for (or against?) – they all more than deserve to win.

Rio Tinto

Salt Lake City routinely gets an F for its air quality. No wonder, since Utah’s capital is the 9th most toxic city in the US, according to Forbes. See, the Kennecott Bingham Canyon mine – the world’s largest open pit mining operation and the deepest excavation of its kind – is in the neighbourhood. This is where most of the 4,700 Olympic medals are coming from.

“Salt Lake City is a one-company town,” said Cherise Udell of Utah Moms for Clean Air. That company is Rio Tinto, the world’s third largest mining company and fourth largest producer of uranium. It is responsible for at least 30 per cent of air pollution in the valley, which contributes to 1,000-2,000 premature deaths from air pollution in Utah.

Wherever Rio Tinto goes, it drags a dirty trail of human rights violations, environmental time bombs, and the good old law-breaking. In Australia, the corporation spills radioactive waste into Aboriginal lands. It does the same in West Papua, where local rivers are contaminated with toxic waste, and in Madagascar, where farmers are evicted from their land and cut off from sources of their livelihood. In Mongolia, Rio Tinto operates the desert-based Oyu Tolgoi mine that will use massive amounts of water which is precious in such a fragile ecosystem. Neither Mongolian nomads nor other local communities in the area have been consulted or informed about what’s about to descend on them.

The London Mining Network’s briefing lists more crimes committed by Rio Tinto, and here’s why the corporation should win Greenwash Gold 2012:

Cast your vote here: Greenwash Gold 2012.

Dow Chemical

It’s very likely most of us possess something Dow, this giant plastic manufacturer, has produced. It’s also likely we are not aware of it because, being a non-consumer brand, it manages to slip out of public radar.

This is the company that during the Second World War made business with the Nazi regime, which it supplied with money and other material required to continue the war. This is the company that developed napalm and produced Agent Orange used by the US against the people of Vietnam. This is the company that denies its liability for the Bhopal gas disaster. And it doesn’t look like it’s up for changing course, really: in India, Dow was recently found guilty for bribing politicians to fast-track its pesticides; in the US, it was found guilty for rubber price-fixing and responsible for river pollution in Louisiana.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

This is the company that will provide a fabric wrap supposed to reduce wind in the Olympic stadium. And this is why it should win Greenwash Gold 2012:

Cast your vote here: Greenwash Gold 2012.


Derrick Evans, community organiser from Mississippi, laughed when he heard the British oil giant BP is the “Sustainability partner” for London 2012. “When oil and dead dolphins are still washing up on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico?” Yes. “While BP pays for ads to say how well they’ve cleaned up?” Yes.

Deepwater Horizon was a catastrophe of enormous proportions, but it is not the only tragic project BP is keen to get into: there’s also Canada’s tar sands, deepwater and Arctic drilling, and fracking, all with potentially irreversible damage to our planet. BP has also ditched its solar energy initiatives and is ticking its “Renewable Energy” box with biofuels. “BP is planning for the end of the world,” Worth said.

Her words were echoed by Harry Broadbent of Campaign for a More Sustainable Olympics. “[BP’s] current business plan of increasing the supply of fossil fuels from dirtier and dirtier sources, such as the tar sands, would lead us to a rise in temperature of 6 degrees – which would spell the end of life as we know it,” he said. “Choosing BP as Sustainability Partner is like choosing a paedophile to be head of a primary school.”

Here’s a summary of why BP should win Greenwash Gold 2012:

Cast your vote here: Greenwash Gold 2012.

The moral of the story? Don’t admit the pig into a church. But if it’s somehow managed to pay its way in, make sure it fails in its mission to fool us that it’s not a pig. A pig is still a pig, even if it climbed the altar.

Image credits: Pigs is in the public domain. Greenwash Detected by fotdmike under a Creative Commons licence. Greenwash Gold 2012 from the campaign website under a Creative Commons licence.

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About The Author(s)

Giedre Steikunaite

Giedre Steikunaite

Freelance Writer / Journalist

A freelance writer and journalist currently based in London, UK. The issues I explore are human rights // environment // culture, and the people who are making a change towards a possible future for all of us.

Comments (5)

  • Kevin Rennie

    Brilliant post! Interesting to see mention of our old friend Rio Tinto. My post for Th!nk3 Mining Windfalls A Taxing Problem touches on some of these issues.

  • Giedre Steikunaite

    Giedre Steikunaite

    Cheers Kevin! Did you vote for Rio Tinto for Greenwash Gold 2012 then?

    To add to the long list of what ain’t right with London 2012: the draconian laws drawn up to “protect” the official Olympic sponsors and their brands. For example, if you are not an official sponsor, you are not allowed to use the words London Olympics, London 2012, London Games or other derivatives in your advertising. Say, a local pub in East London can’t have on their chalk board something in the lines of “Watch the Games here! Sunday Roast Special: Only 7.99″ because that would be a criminal (!!!) offence. Neither can any athlete be seen in public drinking any other soft drink but Coca Cola’s products. And if I went to see synchronised swimming, or any other sport, I would only legally be allowed to share pictures I take there – or anywhere else in the Olympic Village – offline. So no twitter, no facebook, no flickr, nothing.

    So how are the Olympics meant to get humanity together if only those with a lot of cash set the tone, the rules, and the punishment for breaking those rules?

    Isn’t it ridiculous, don’t you think?

  • Kevin Rennie

    Wonder what they’ll call French fries during the games. Do they the athletes march through giant golden arches at the opening ceremony?

    I would certainly ignore the social media restrictions. When everyone does, as is bound to be the case, nothing will happen. Blatant commercial use may well be prosecuted, I suspect.

    Encouraging people is likely to be a serious offence as well. It’s called the ‘free’ market society. We have to protect the big-end-of-town.

    You’ll get the Big SMac!


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