Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 4 April 2021


Do companies really want to sponsor the Genocide Olympics?

Uyghur protesters hold signs during a demonstration against China in Istanbul on Thursday.
Uyghur protesters hold signs during a demonstration against China in Istanbul on Thursday. (Tolga Bozoglu/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
April 5, 2021 at 2:27 a.m. GMT+8

Coca-Cola chairman James Quincey recently slammed the state of Georgia for its new election law. “We all have a duty to protect everyone’s right to vote, and we will continue to stand up for what is right in Georgia and across the U.S.,” he said.

Across the U.S. — and no further?

As Western businesses prepare to salute China at the Beijing Winter Olympics next February, the chairman of the China-Britain Business Council offered an all-purpose explanation of why it’s okay to do business with the Communists who are committing genocide 1,600 miles west of the ski slopes and skating rinks.

If companies are going to trade beyond Scandinavia and a few other countries — “possibly New Zealand and Australia and Canada,” Sherard Cowper-Coles jocularly told the Wall Street Journal last week — then they will have to operate where human rights conditions are “less than ideal.”

Let’s not be naive, in other words. The world’s a nasty place. Who are we to insist on perfection?

As it happens, the U.S. State Department last week published its annual report on human rights around the world. In China, it found, significant human rights issues included:

“Arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions . . . political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country . . . arbitrary interference with privacy; pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members, and censorship and site blocking; . . . severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; . . . forced labor and trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.”

Throughout China, in other words, repression has worsened dramatically since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Then there’s the genocide of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in China’s western territory. Ongoing crimes against humanity there include “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions . . . rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”

Less than ideal, yes.

Can Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa, General Electric and a dozen other multinational corporations really celebrate the Games next February as if none of that is going on?

At the website the Olympics maintains for these top sponsors, you can find their executives and Olympic officials congratulating each other for promoting gender equality and “Olympic values” and, yes, human rights.

On March 24, for example, the site posted an interview with Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, “who has helped the Worldwide Olympic Partner use the power of advertising to fight gender bias.”

“So, there should be equality in everything that we do,” Pritchard explained. “And that should then extend to all aspects of intersectionality, which includes race, ethnicity, gender orientation, sexual identity, ability, religion, even age. Equality fuels positive things; equality improves society; equality drives growth.”

If P&G believes in equality of religion, can its executives really cheer the Opening Ceremonies as mosques and Muslim cemeteries are razedimams are imprisoned and tortured; children are removed from Muslim homes? As more than 1 million Muslims are sent to reeducation camps, and ethnic Han Chinese men are sent into many of the homes they are taken from?

“There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the ‘Pair Up and Become Family’ program,” the State Department report notes, “and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay.”

Can these companies really expect us to take seriously their self-congratulations on gender equity while Uyghur women are raped, sterilized and forced into ­prostitution?

More than 10 months remain before the Winter Olympics are scheduled to open. The companies could say to the Chinese government: Liberate the camps. Let the Uyghurs live in peace. Allow outside observers to come see that you have done so. Then let the Games begin.

Otherwise, Coca-Cola and P&G, Samsung and Intel, Dow and Toyota, all 15 sponsors the IOC says are “crucial to the staging of the Games,” will have to ask themselves: Is it really consistent with our values to sponsor the Genocide ­Olympics?

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