The Games’ major corporate backers might imagine that by plowing more than $1 billion into sponsorship deals for the 2022 Games they will associate their brands and logos with the pageantry, pizazz and athletic prodigies that will be beamed around the globe. They ought to reconsider how those brands and logos will fare, along with their profits, in an event orchestrated and overshadowed by a regime dedicated to human rights abuses on a grand scale. Because even as the world’s gaze is concentrated on the sporting events and arenas in and around Beijing, coverage of the Games will also train a spotlight of unprecedented intensity on the violence and repression 2,000 miles to the west in China’s Xinjiang region.
That means it’s time for a rethink by Coca-Cola, Visa and Airbnb. You too, Panasonic, Toyota and others. They are among the multinational firms that have ignored letters from a coalition of some 200 human rights groups, and were silent when the Financial Times newspaper asked whether they were reviewing their sponsorship plans in light of the campaign against the Uyghurs, to say nothing of Beijing’s aggressive campaign to snuff out democracy, freedom of expression, human rights and any shred of autonomy in Hong Kong.
The question has gained urgency since late March, when the State Department formally declared Beijing guilty of genocide against China’s 12 million-strong Uyghur community. What’s more, it’s fair to hold those companies to the standards many have set publicly for themselves. For instance, is Visa serious that it values “respect for human rights into the expectations of our partnerships and sponsorships,” as it proclaims? Is Toyota really a firm that “practices the philosophy of ‘Respect for People,’ ” as it asserts?
Coca-Cola gravely declares: “Where we have identified adverse human rights impacts resulting from or caused by our business activities, we are committed to provide for, or cooperate in, their fair and equitable remediation.” If so, how exactly would Coca-Cola go about remediating the Uyghurs for the unquantifiable harm that may fall upon them if, as Beijing clearly hopes, its regime is legitimized and its image airbrushed by the Winter Games and their major sponsors?
The XXIV Games will forever be regarded as the Genocide Olympics. Sponsors cannot indefinitely duck the questions, or their responsibility.