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‘Woke’ Coca-Cola, Other Businesses Refuse To Reconsider Sponsorship Of 2022 Beijing Olympics
Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of lawmakers held a hearing about American companies’ decisions to sponsor the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Due to human rights abuses from the Chinese Communist Party — such as the genocide of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province and the suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong — many officials are debating the role of American diplomats and athletes in the upcoming Winter Games, which are slated to begin in seven months.

On Tuesday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China hosted a hearing on corporate sponsorship of the Olympics. Lawmakers expressed concern to executives from Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble, and Visa over their decisions to provide millions in funding to the Games.

For instance, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said in his opening statement:

As the world watches the Olympics currently unfolding in Japan, this Commission remains deeply disturbed that in less than seven months another Olympic Games are scheduled to begin in the shadow of some of the world’s most egregious human rights abuses. The Olympic Games exist to uplift the human spirit. Yet, unless something dramatically changes, in a few months’ time the Games will be held in a country that continues to mercilessly crush the human spirit, in Xinjiang, in Hong Kong, and in Tibet; among human rights activists and civil society; and anywhere where defenders of freedom stand up to the Chinese government’s bullying.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) prompted the companies to draw attention to Chinese human rights abuses:

Congress and the Executive Branch are acting because, when it comes to the Chinese government committing atrocities, we do not accept business as usual. Today we ask whether you will treat the Beijing Olympic as business as usual. 

As U.S-based Olympic sponsors, your companies represent America on the world stage. We ask whether you are willing to stand up for universal values and use your leverage against genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Despite lawmakers’ admonitions, the executives refrained from voicing concern over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies and reaffirmed their decisions to support the Games. In his opening statement, for example, Coca-Cola global vice president for human rights Paul Lalli brushed off the suggestion that his firm could meaningfully impact the Games: 

As a sponsor of global sporting events, our influence is limited. In the case of the Olympics, for instance, The Coca-Cola Company is one of 14 companies in The Olympic Partners program. Those 14 companies together provide less than a fifth of the IOC’s funding. By contrast, broadcasters contribute almost 75 percent. That governments are always intimately involved in bidding for and hosting any event only heightens the challenge.

Despite repeatedly emphasizing Coca-Cola’s commitment to human rights, the statement made no specific mention of the terms “Beijing,” “Uyghur,” “Xinjiang,” “Hong Kong,” or even “China,” apart from one mention of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

CNN Business reported that other business leaders likewise refused to reconsider their sponsorship of the Beijing Games:

During the hearing Rep. Christopher Smith asked representatives from the five companies how they could “reconcile their ostensible commitment to human rights with subsidizing an Olympics held in a country which is actively committing human rights abuses up to and including genocide.” He asked the executives whether the Games should be relocated.

“As long as governments are allowing the athletes to attend the games, we as Visa will be there to support or sponsor them,” said Andrea Fairchild, Visa’s senior vice president of Global Sponsorship Strategy.

David Holyoke, head of Airbnb’s Olympics and Paralympics Partnership, said that the company’s partnership with the International Olympic Committee is “not focused on Beijing or any other single games.”

And Intel executive vice president and general counsel Steven Rodgers said that the company has “not stated a position on the location of the games.”

On Tuesday, The Daily Wire reported that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) grilled Lalli over his company’s willingness to turn a blind eye to abuses in China — which is home to the world’s second-largest consumer economy — while blasting American officials for purported voter suppression.

“I’ve heard your talking points,” said Cotton. “And I’m tired of hearing them, Mr. Lalli. I’m asking you a simple question. Why is it that Coca-Cola will opine on Georgia’s election laws, but not on the genocide Olympics?”

“Georgia is our home, it’s where many of our employees live and work,” responded Lalli. “And we are most engaged on public policy issues here in the US.”

“I think the answer is, you are afraid of the Chinese Communist Party, you’re afraid of what they will do to your company, if you say a single word, like for instance, saying that both the Biden and the Trump administration are correct when they say that China is committing a genocide against its own,” retorted Cotton.

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