olympic_corporate_sponsors_must_speak_out_russian_gay_rights_abusesHuman Rights Watch has accused Olympic corporate sponsors of failing to speak out strongly enough against human rights abuses ahead of the Sochi Winter Games, to be hosted by Russian in February 2014.

“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 labour abuse, discrimination, and attacks on press freedom.”

The main corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games 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 says that it’s written to each of these companies to call their attention to the serious human rights abuses but is not satisfied with their responses.

Abuses include the exploitation of workers, the eviction of homeowners and their families without fair compensation; the harassment of civil society activists and journalists; and damage to the environment in preparation for the Games.

Another serious concern is the Russian parliament’s adoption in June of the anti-gay “propaganda” law, which, said the organisation, violates the Olympic Charter’s non-discrimination clause and has already led to a worsening climate for members of Russia’s LGBT community.

Human Rights Watch said that Olympic sponsors must take a number of actions, include urging the International Olympic Committee (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,'” insisted Human Rights Watch.

The sponsors, said the organisation, should also issue a public statement, individually as a company or jointly with other sponsors, opposing anti-LGBT discrimination and other rights abuses in Sochi.

An August protest in New York City against Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Sochi Games

An August protest in New York City against Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Sochi Games (Pic: Queer Nation)

They should also push IOC President Thomas Bach to agree to a meeting with Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations – in particular LGBT rights groups – before the end of the year.

Most of the corporate sponsors who responded to Human Rights Watch said they raised the organisation’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 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 also noted in their written responses to Human Rights Watch that the IOC is satisfied with the Russian authorities’ “assurances” that no athlete or visitor will suffer discrimination in Sochi, but this, said the organisation, is not enough.

“The Russian government’s assurances are vague and misleading,” Worden said. “The anti-gay ‘propaganda’ law is fundamentally discriminatory. Corporate sponsors should recognise that Russia’s flouting of Olympic rules requires action.”

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