Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Underbelly of the Summer Olympics

Photo by Brandalism via Flickr Creative Commons

The Olympic banned list: campaigners highlight the stranglehold of corporate sponsors. Photo by Brandalism

(Cross-posted from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

The British media is now in full Olympic mode exhorting viewers and readers ‘to get the party started’.

In full ‘bluster’ mode, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, suggests joy at the Games’ arrival is spreading like a ‘benign virus’. Indeed, Britain has united around the unlikely figure of Mitt Romney who has attracted scorn over his criticism of London’s preparations. Clearly the would-be president failed to appreciate moaning at British incompetence is purely a privilege reserved for Britons.
With just hours until the Games get underway, it’s fair to say that Britain is quite excited by the Olympics.

But getting to this point has been a long journey – and not always a smooth one. Here are seven investigations exploring the bumpier side of the Games. Tell us about other London Olympic investigations that caught your eye.

A word from our sponsors

The Olympic flame arrives at the stadium today after a 70-day national relay that has seen 8,000 people carry the torch through towns and cities across the UK. But who were these torchbearers and how were they picked?

The Guardian joined forces with Help Me Investigate, a crowdsourced investigative journalism website, to crunch the data – and discovered some unusual choices, many of which had a distinctly corporate tint. Members of Adidas’ marketing team, £900,000-a-year senior director at Next, and mining giant ArcelorMittal’s founder Lakshmi Mittal, the world’s 21st richest man, are just some of the thousands of corporate nominations who’ve helped carry the Olympic flame to Stratford.

Olympic tax break

Ethical Consumer magazine revealed many of the 2012 official sponsors would not be paying tax on their profits from the Games thanks to an agreement between the UK’s tax authority, HMRC and the International Olympic Committee.

Campaigning network, 38 Degrees were incensed and organised an online petition. They began by targeting McDonalds’ tax affairs. Word spread and the petition soon had hundreds of thousands of signatures.

In a subsequent email to the petition’s signatories, 38 Degrees wrote: ’Moments after launching the petition calling on companies like McDonald’s to give up their Olympic tax breaks, their rattled PR team were on the phone. Minutes later [McDonalds] publicly confirmed they wouldn’t be taking up the tax dodge.’

Coca-Cola, VISA, General Electric, Adidas and EDF all soon followed. A golden moment for tax justice campaigners and an example of the power of investigative journalism on holding corporations to account.

Beyond the Olympic Park

Since 2008 Britain has spent £9.3bn pounds building gleaming Olympic facilities, many of which are concentrated in the east London borough of Newham. But a Bloomberg report yesterday examined the fate of the desperately poor borough beyond the Olympic Park’s gates, where many residents are crammed into some of England’s poorest housing. Many households have been battered by welfare cuts, and some have been found living in what have been nicknamed ‘sheds with beds’.

Adding insult to injury, with the Olympics approaching, earlier in the year Newham Council sought to move 500 families to Stoke-on-Trent, which they claimed was due to an ‘overheating’ of the rental market. The council has rebuffed claims that this represents social cleansing, and half the Olympic Village will be coverted to affordable housing after the Games are over. Yet in Newham, the chosen bar for ‘affordable’ housing may still be much too high.

The radioactive Olympic site

Two years ago, Freedom of Information requests by the Guardian unearthed evidence of radioactive waste buried beneath one of the Olympic sites in east London. Documents that revealed thorium and radium waste had previously been buried in a ‘disposal cell’ 250m north of the Olympic stadium.

Officials insist the waste poses no risk to athletes or spectators during the event. But the revelations could limit the development of the Olympic site after the Games are over, as further disruption could expose the waste.

Future plans for the site include the construction of a university and urban park land. But officials will have to carefully consider building plans, to ensure the Olympic site does not leave a toxic legacy.

Undercover inside a shambolic G4S

The failings of contracted security G4S have provided the papers with numerous stories over the past weeks. The Daily Mail recently exposed the company’s weaknesses by sending a reporter undercover to experience the organisation’s recruitment and training programme.

Ryan Kisiel posed as unemployed man seeking work as a security guard. Shocked by the ease with which he was signed up, Kisiel wrote, ‘In what is supposed to be the most secure Olympics in history, I had managed to simply waltz in and register to be one of those given the huge responsibility of helping guard it. I could have been a terrorist or a convicted criminal.’

The undercover reporter describes the administrative chaos and ‘poor calibre of candidates’ painting a worrying portrait of those who are to be responsible for the entrance security for the Olympic events.

The myth of London’s ‘ethical Olympics’

With almost 100 days to go till the opening ceremony the Independent exposed a gaping hole in organisers’ claims that the 2012 Olympics would be the most ethical ever. The paper revealed the Adidas kits worn by British athletes and Olympic volunteers were being made in Indonesian sweatshops.

The German sportswear manufacturer hoped to net £100m from selling the shoes and clothes, designed by Stella McCartney. But the mainly young, female factory employees stitching the glossy gear together were working up to 65 hours a week for less than a living wage.

None of the nine factories contracted to churn out the Olympic-branded clobber paid their employees more than the minimum demanded by the Ethical Trading Initiative. Locog adopted this internationally recognised code but none of the factory workers interviewed by the Independent had ever heard of it, let alone Locog’s complaints system.

Factory workers ‘endure verbal and physical abuse’, ‘are forced to work overtime’, and are ‘punished for not reaching production targets’, the paper reported.

The Olympic cleaners living in shipping crates

While athletes enjoy slick housing in the Olympic village, thousands of cleaners arriving in London to work at the Games are being put up in temporary cabins, the Daily Mail revealed earlier this month. There are 25 people to every toilet, and 75 to every shower, according to the report. And they are paying £18 a day – £550 a month – for the privilege of living there.

Worse still, the cabins apparently failed to withstand the constant rain of June and July, and were leaking.

When Games organisers revealed their plans for the campsite, Newham Council officials said the bathroom arrangements were ‘unlikely to be adequate’, while sleeping space was ‘cramped’.
This didn’t stop Locog from backing the scheme, or the council from approving it – reasoning that the cramped conditions were only temporary.

Do you have any more Olympic misery stories? Feel free to reveal all below. (go to website.)


Fred Drumlevitch said...

The Olympics have come to combine the worst characteristics of professional sports with the worst of monopoly capitalism along with a dose of fascism, the government significantly acting against personal civil liberties while aiding large corporate enterprises. The corporations that benefit from this arrangement are, of course, thrilled to have government run interference for them, while the government officials benefit from Olympic-related personal perks, an inflated sense of self-importance, and an excuse to increase police infrastructure and surveillance of the general public.

All of this would seem to cry out for what is potentially the most powerful non-violent remedy available in a highly capitalistic society, the one that corporations and their government lackeys certainly understand.

I am, of course, referring to the economic boycott.

Unfortunately, the sheeple like their fix of sports, especially when it is wrapped in nationalism, and they don't think much about the true costs --- so I don't hold out much hope of boycotts or information actually having much effect. What's really needed is the force of law prohibiting governmental subsidy of these fascistic rip-offs. Good luck with that!

Zee said...

@Fred Drumlevitch--

It will take me quite some time to sift through the links that you have provided when I get home, but I think that you are "spot on" in your assessment of the Olympics: a combination of the worst characteristics of professional sports, (unbridled) capitalism, and fascism.

For my part, I'm boycotting the Olympics mostly/largely because I'm off in the boonies of Northern California (even more remote than New Mexico), barely able to find Internet service, let alone cable TV.

Besides, I'm having fun with distant branches of my family, so the Olympics are a poor second choice anyway.

I did see your final post of a couple of threads ago re the NRA etc., and agree wholeheartedly. Thanks.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Zee (and everyone):

re the Olympics, and more:

The Wikipedia section on the cost of the Olympics repeatedly references (currently, its ref. #96) a paper by Flyvbjerg and Stewart that looks like it might be the most definitive recent analysis. Unfortunately, it's listed as a "working paper", not a journal article, and I wasn't able to find it online in order to be able to provide a link. (The authors may not be formally putting it out there in its current form, or perhaps I just missed it).

The third link I provided is a different paper by Flyvbjerg that I came across during the search for the Olympics one, and which mentions the Olympics in passing but examines primarily transportation projects, as exemplars of megaprojects in general. It should be of interest to all of us, left or right, because of its relevance to the more general topic of governmental spending amounts and priorities. (Note that improper priorities or mismanagement in the past on projects that involve government does not mean that one should draw the conclusion (voiced by many on the right) that no such projects should go forward in the future. First of all, some projects are for the common good, and there is absolutely no basis for expecting that capitalism will, on its own, do them. Furthermore, many projects are government-corporate partnerships, with the private sector every bit as culpable as the government, if not more, for cost overruns and misplaced priorities --- and they are more than happy to feed at the government trough. Finally, as we have seen in recent years, private enterprise operating even entirely on its own is quite capable of profound mismanagement).

With regard to my support of your second amendment rights, Zee, don't misinterpret that support as equating to support for the NRA. In many ways, that organization is just another self-serving lobbying group, with grossly overpaid top executives acting more in their own interest than the interest of the nation. Furthermore, their strong alliance with the far right, and libel/slander of anyone who doesn't demonstrate absolute fealty to them, is, I believe, actually counterproductive long-term with regard to establishing the broad support that is necessary to preserve fundamental rights.

Zee said...

@@Fred Drumlevitch and @All--

I don't mean to imply that I support the NRA at every turn, nor have I interpreted your support for my Second Amendment rights in any way as blanket support for the NRA. I don't blindly support the NRA myself.

I believe that I have mentioned in the past that I am often conflicted--indeed, sometimes ashamed--of the political alliances that I have been forced to make in order to stand by particular rights that I hold dear.

(I suspect that even some of you Progressives out here even feel the same way bout some of the organizations you support, too.)

I absolutely agree with you that such "lockstep" fealty is counterproductive. But you are the rare Progressive who is willing to give my views a fair hearing, @Valerie Long Tweedie and some Progressive friends here in Albuquerque being perhaps the other exceptions.

But beyond that, who is standing with me other than the NRA?

Meanwhile, one need only read the comments associated with the Gail Collins column of a few days ago--linked to by @Karen--to see how hated and feared American gun owners are by the urban populace, to understand the seige that we Westerners feel ourselves to be.

Utter the word "ban" with respect to firearms--as it is, so frequently and indiscrimately--and we are done with the discussion. Sorry, but that's just the way life often is.

I'm not a terrorist, just an American following the traditions of his nation and the Father who gave him his first .22LR rifle.

And I don't like being characterized as a terrorist. But again, look at the comments associated with Gail Collins' column, and see how we American gun owners are typified.

(Not sayin' that anyone in this forum has described me as such; but look at the comments associated with Collins' column.)

@Fred, you and I have much to talk about, because I think that I can get a fair hearing from you.

And when and if we have reached some reasonble agreement, perhaps we can talk with other Progressives and "thinking Conservatives" about the conclusions that we have reached.

Hope this makes sense, but I am very tired after a long drive from the home of my Conservative family in far Northern California to my Liberal Family in the San Francisco Bay Are--who think I'm a terrorist, too--to write as clearly as I might hope.