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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

China: Olympic Sponsors Ignore Human Rights Abuses

August 20, 2008

For Immediate Release
China: Olympic Sponsors Ignore Human Rights Abuses
TOP Sponsors Should Back Introduction of a Permanent Olympic Rights Monitor
Human Rights Watch
August 19, 2008

New York, Aug 19-- The major corporate sponsors of the Beijing
Olympics have failed to uphold their own principles of corporate
social responsibility, Human Rights Watch said today. Sponsors have
failed to speak out -- either individually or collectively -- about
human rights abuses linked to the Beijing Games, and should be
prepared to support the establishment of a permanent body inside the
International Olympic Committee to monitor rights abuses at future Olympics.

The 12 TOP ("The Olympic Partner") sponsors of the Beijing Games are
Atos Origin, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Manulife, Johnson &
Johnson, Kodak, Lenovo, McDonald's, Omega (Swatch Group), Panasonic,
Samsung, and Visa. Over the last 12 months, Human Rights Watch
repeatedly contacted all TOP sponsors and met with five of these
companies, off the record. The other seven failed to respond to
repeated requests to meet with Human Rights Watch. In its meetings
and correspondence with the 12 TOP sponsors, Human Rights Watch
documented numerous human rights violations related to the Beijing
Games, including ongoing media censorship, the abuse of migrant
construction workers who built the Olympic venues, and the unlawful
forced evictions of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens from
their homes to make way for these venues. Yet the sponsors were
unwilling to address these abuses.

"The Olympic sponsors claim to be good corporate citizens," said
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But
as they enjoy the Games from the comfort of their seats at the
Olympic stadium, they should reflect on their failure to speak up for
the Chinese citizens who built the stadium and their hotels, clean
their hotel rooms, serve their meals or, in the case of Chinese
journalists, try to bring them their news."

One corporate executive told Human Rights Watch, "It is not our
comfort zone to criticize countries." Another said: "That is the role
of human rights organizations. In this respect we are from Mars,
you're from Venus." (See appendix for examples of other statements by
corporate representatives.) Yet such statements contradict the
corporate social responsibility policies espoused in principle by
several TOP sponsors' websites.  For example, the "GE Citizenship"
section of General Electric's website proclaims that, "GE seeks to
advance human rights by leading by example – through our interactions
with customers and suppliers, the products we offer and our
relationships with communities and governments." Increasingly,
General Electric's customers are Chinese citizens, who face systematic abuses.

The Olympic sponsors' silence on human rights abuses is more
pronounced given that they have collectively spent about US$866
million to gain status as TOP sponsors. Human Rights Watch has urged
the TOP Olympic sponsors to take six specific steps in line with
their commitment to corporate social responsibility:

· Publicly voice their support for the human rights dimensions of the
Olympic Charter, which seeks to promote the "respect for universal
fundamental ethical principles" and the "preservation of human dignity";

· Publicly certify that their operations in China do not entail labor
abuses or other rights violations;

· Request that the Chinese authorities fulfill their human rights
commitments made when the Games were awarded, in particular with
regard to media freedom;

· Urge the release of human rights activists such as Hu Jia,
co-author of an open letter titled "The Real China and the Olympics";

· Support an independent investigation of the March 2008 crackdown in
Tibet (a recommendation directed in particular toward Coca-Cola,
Lenovo and Samsung, sponsors of the Torch Relay, which passed through
Tibet); and,

· Press the IOC to establish a standing committee or mechanism to
address human rights abuses in future host countries, including
Russia, which will host the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Human Rights Watch said that there is no evidence that any of the
Olympic sponsors has followed up in any meaningful way on any of
these recommendations. This inaction contradicts the principles of
corporate social responsibility described in these companies' annual
reports and on their websites, as well as the standards of the
Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights (BLIHR), a group to which
General Electric and Coca-Cola belong. General Electric is in an
especially prominent and influential position as a TOP Sponsor and
the parent company of NBC, which is the US broadcaster of the Games
and has paid most for Olympics-related coverage. Coca-Cola, one of
the sponsors of the torch relay, defended the passage of the torch in
Tibet despite the repression of protests there in March 2008 and the
continuing media clampdown in that region. Coca-Cola's chairman
Neville Isdell told the BBC on July 7, "I believe the Olympics are a
force for good and if they were not a force for good, we would not
sponsor them."

Yet, as Human Rights Watch and other groups have extensively
documented in the last 12 months, the Olympics cannot so far be
qualified as a "force for good" in China. The run-up to the Beijing
Games was marred by a worsening of human rights violations in China,
and, since the August 8 opening of the Games, the Chinese government
has intensified its crackdown on human rights defenders, has denied
access to protest zones, and has reneged on promised media and
internet freedom guarantees. In the run-up to the Olympics launch,
foreign correspondents were beaten, detained, and subjected to death
threats. Thousands of "undesirables" including beggars, petitioners,
and migrant workers were forcibly removed from the streets of
Beijing. More information on the deteriorating human rights climate
in China can be found here:

"Being a good corporate sponsor of the Beijing Games has sadly not
meant being a good corporate citizen," said Richardson. "The
sponsors' silence has only emboldened the Chinese government and
allowed the IOC to ignore the human rights standards it claims to uphold."

To view excerpts from TOP Sponsors' corporate social responsibility
policies, and their statements on human rights as well as the
Olympics, please visit:


To read samples of the letters from Human Rights Watch received by
all TOP Sponsors, please visit:

· General Electric:

· NBC:

· McDonald's:

* * * * * * *
Quotes from Human Rights Watch's meetings with Olympic sponsors

Human Rights Watch held meetings with five of the 12 TOP sponsors.
The following quotes from corporate executives are given as
illustrative examples, with no attribution to respect
confidentiality, since several meetings were off-the-record.

One company's refusal to describe any discussions it may have had
with its Chinese interlocutors on human rights issues:

"What's said in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

Three companies (including one sponsor of the torch relay through
Lhasa) explaining their silence on the repression in Tibet:

"Do we want to be associated with a firestorm? No, we do not."

"In the context of the Olympics, Tibet is not relevant. None of the
Olympics takes place in Tibet. The Games are not in Tibet."

"It would not make sense for us to raise the issue of Tibet with our
Chinese interlocutors. The Chinese think that corporate sponsors do
not have a dog in this fight."

One company's "sole purpose":

"What we recognize is that as a legal entity we don't have the same
position as people.  Our sole purpose as a company is to make money
for shareholders... To make money, we need to protect the brand. It's
a complex set of equations. What our prime purpose is not is to
advocate human rights."

One company's "comfort zone" regarding human rights:

"Our commitment to human rights is in our area of how we treat
employees. Our human rights policy does not address the policies of
foreign governments. It is not our comfort zone to criticize countries."

One company's refusal to be "global spokespersons for causes":

"We are not in business to be global spokespersons for causes. That
is the role of human rights organizations. In this respect we are
from Mars, you're from Venus."

One company's view of "appropriate roles and responsibilities":

"It would be inappropriate for us to take up human rights issues
around the Olympics. The question is about appropriate roles and

One company's exclusion of "embarrassing" candidates from a sponsored
program related to the Beijing Games:

"We won't pick the relative of an imprisoned Chinese activist. You
are asking us to choose someone who would embarrass the Chinese
government. This would generate unwanted media coverage on an issue
which is not our direct concern."

For more of Human Rights Watch's work on China and the Beijing Olympics,
please visit:

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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