Olympic sponsors’ silence of human rights risks promoting further abuse

August 13th, 2008

Olympic logo; Reporters without borders

The wall of silence from the sponsors of the Beijing Olympics over the human rights abuses committed by China will be harmful to their long-term prospects in the world’s most populous nation, according to Sophie Richardson, a director of Human Rights Watch.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Richardson accuses the major sponsors of the 2008 games – Atos Origin, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Lenovo, McDonald’s, Omega (Swatch Group), Panasonic (Matsushita), Samsung, and Visa – of being complicit in repression.

She believes these companies are shooting themselves in the foot commercially through their silence on China’s serial human rights abuses arguing that, by remaining tight-lipped on the matter, they will harm their long-term interests in China. Between them, the 12 biggest sponsors have handed $866m to the Beijing Olympic games.

Richardson writes: “Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has met with many of the main Olympic sponsors and suppliers, all of which profess great interest in corporate social responsibility and human rights. But without exception, they are putting their considerable public relations and lobbying muscle towards ducking any social responsibility for sponsoring Games in one of the more repressive Olympic host countries in recent memory.”

Richardson is shocked by the sponsors’ refusal to hold the Chinese government to account over its human rights record related to the Games – including the forced eviction of Chinese citizens from their homes to make way for new Olympic venues, the exploitation of migrant workers who built the venues, and the jailing of activists who denounced such abuses.

Having reported on business for nearly 20 years, I am not in the least surprised. Where they see short-term gain, such companies invariably turn a blind eye to such things.

However, the chickens may come home to roost for these companies. Their silence could give the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the impression that nobody’s going to bat an eyelid over the breaking of promises made at the time it was awarded the games in 2001.

China’s leaders would be emboldened by such appeasement, interpreting it as meaning they will be able to have their cake and eat it: i.e. step up repression (through the stamping out free speech, locking up dissenters without trial, executing petty criminals and generally flouting the rule of law) and at the same time as continuing to be allowed to trade freely with the west.

The silence of the dozen corporate sponsors and their smaller counterparts may encourage China to become increasingly nationalistic and perhaps even more comfortable with the expropriation of foreign-owned assets, a la Vladimir Putin.

Did Atos Origin, Coca-Cola, General Electric, J&J, Kodak, McDonald’s, Swatch, Matsushita, Samsung, and Visa considered any of this before they adopted double standards over China? I suspect not.

  1. Huffington Post article from August 6th Sponsoring the Olympics is bad for business
  2. Huffington Post article from August 13th Journalist attacked while filming Tibet protest in Beijing
  3. Scholars & Rogues article Free speech at Beijing Olympics decidedly costly
  4. Guardian video showing an IOC spokeswoman stonewalling Channel 4 corresondent Alex Thomson’s questions about whether the IOC is dissappointed at China’s failure to honour human rights and media access promises.

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Posted by on Aug 13 2008. Filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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