Leading corporate sponsors of the Olympics have yet to speak out strongly against the rights abuses linked to the preparations for the Sochi Winter Games, to be hosted by Russia in February 2014, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Corporate sponsors have a huge stake in making the Sochi Games the celebration of fair play and human dignity that all Olympics should be,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Sponsors should speak up about labor abuse, discrimination, and attacks on press freedom.”
All sponsors of the Sochi Games should take a more forceful public stance against the rights violations that have marred the preparation of the Olympics and support the call from civil society for institutional reform of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to prevent similar situations in future host countries, Human Rights Watch said.
The main corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games – participants in the Olympic Partner Programme known as TOP Sponsors – are 10 major international companies: Atos, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa. The Games will be broadcast in the United States by NBC.
Human Rights Watch wrote three detailed letters to each of these companies earlier in 2013 to call their attention to serious human rights abuses underway in Sochi.
These abuses include:
- Exploitation of workers, including migrant workers, building Olympic venues and infrastructure in Sochi, as well as illegal detentions and deportations in some cases.
- Evictions of homeowners and their families without fair compensation or in some cases without any compensation, as well as cases in which the authorities have refused to relocate or properly compensate owners whose properties have been damaged or compromised by Olympic construction;
- Harassment of civil society activists and journalists speaking out about concerns related to Olympic preparations and other concerns;
- Negative impacts on the environment that are affecting the right to health, as in the case of a village whose residents face their fifth year without reliable drinking water as a result of Olympics-related construction; and
- The Russian parliament's adoption in June of an anti-gay “propaganda” law, which violates the Olympic Charter's nondiscrimination clause and has already led to a worsening climate for members of Russia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Press freedom is a central tenet of the Olympic Charter, which dedicates an entire section to “Media Coverage of the Olympic Games.” Media coverage is essential to success of the Olympics, with the Games expected to bring in millions of dollars in revenue, Human Rights Watch said.
Yet the three-day ordeal of police questioning, intimidation, and detention that reporters from Norway's TV2 television station endured from October 31 to November 2 while reporting on human rights and other concerns related to the Olympics is a worrying sign, Human Rights Watch said.
“If you don't promise full media freedom, you shouldn't get to host the Olympics,” Worden said.
“What happened to TV2 should prompt the corporate sponsors and broadcasters to end their silence.”
These abuses are comparable in some of the rights violations linked to the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Games, which Human Rights Watch documented, and raised with corporate sponsors on numerous occasions.
Human Rights Watch initially wrote the TOP corporate sponsors and NBCUniversal in June summarizing rights violations linked to preparations for the Games and requesting a meeting to discuss actions sponsors could take to help end the abuses. Human Rights Watch wrote to the companies again in August and October.
Eight of the ten TOP Sponsors – Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, and Samsung – provided written responses, as did NBCUniversal. Four of these companies – Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric and NBCUniversal – agreed to meet with Human Rights Watch. Atos and Visa have not responded to date.
The sponsors should take a number of specific steps, Human Rights Watch said, including:
- Urge the IOC to press Russia to repeal the anti-gay “propaganda” law. The law is inconsistent with the sixth Fundamental Principle of the Olympic Charter, which states, “Any form of discrimination … is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement;”
- Issue a public statement, individually as a company or jointly with other sponsors, opposing anti-LGBT discrimination and other rights abuses in Sochi;
- Urge the IOC to press Russia to remedy violations, including migrant labor abuses, forced evictions, and the crackdown on journalists and activists;
- Urge the IOC leadership to carry out institutional reform to avoid future rights crises, for example by establishing a permanent human rights mechanism that would incorporate human rights benchmarks, by monitoring host countries' respect of these benchmarks, and by making host city contracts public and thereby more transparent; and
- Ask IOC President Thomas Bach to accept the request by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations – in particular LGBT rights groups – for a meeting before the end of 2013.
Most of the corporate sponsors who responded to Human Rights Watch have said they raised the organization's concerns with the IOC. Some sponsors have made general public statements against discrimination, presumably prompted by the public outcry surrounding the anti-gay “propaganda” law.
However, none of the corporate sponsors Human Rights Watch contacted have agreed to urge the IOC to press Russia to repeal the “propaganda” law. Nor has any corporate sponsor issued a public statement that would send a strong message to the Russian authorities on the need to comply with the Olympic Charter. Some sponsors noted in their written responses that the IOC is satisfied with the Russian authorities' “assurances” that no athlete or visitor will suffer discrimination in Sochi.
“The Russian government's assurances are vague and misleading,” Worden said. “The anti-gay 'propaganda' law is fundamentally discriminatory. Corporate sponsors should recognize that Russia's flouting of Olympic rules requires action.”
Click here for more Human Rights Watch reporting on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Click here for more Human Rights Watch reporting on Russia.
Click here to read the sponsors' responses to Human Rights Watch.