Coca-Cola and other major American corporations have declined to reconsider their sponsorship of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Despite reports from both the previous Trump administration and the current Biden administration’s State Department that China is conducting a campaign of genocide against the Uyghur minority group in Xinjiang province — among other human rights abuses, including the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong — corporations planning on heavily advertising their products at next year’s games will not renege on their sponsorship of the event, much less say anything critical about the Chinese Communist Party.
On Tuesday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China hosted a bipartisan hearing on corporate sponsorship of the 2022 Winter Games, where lawmakers expressed their concerns to executives from Coca-Cola, Intel, Airbnb, Procter & Gamble and Visa over their decision to invest millions in ad dollars with the Chinese-run event.
Speaking at the hearing, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) opened with the 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) asked companies to pay attention to China’s 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 Olympics 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.
Executives responding to the committee refused to criticize the Chinese government and its policies, and reaffirmed their decision to sponsor the games. Coca-Cola’s vice president for human rights, Paul Lalli, tried to brush off the suggestion that Coca-Cola could have any meaningful impact on China, stating:
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.
The statement made no mention of any specific terms relating to China’s ongoing human rights abuses, including “Uyghur,” Xinjiang,” “Hong Kong,” or even “China” apart from mentioning the name of the committee.
As detailed by CNN Business, other corporate executives have refused to reconsider their sponsorship of the games.
“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.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who called the games the “Genocide Olympics,” slammed the Coca-Cola executive, telling him “I heard your talking points and I’m tired of hearing them.”
“I think the answer is you're afraid of the Chinese communist party,” said Cotton. “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 genocide against its own people.”