As one of the most recognizable brands in the world, Coca-Cola has been an outspoken proponent of human rights in the United States. However, when it comes to sponsoring the Olympics in China, where the Chinese Communist Party is committing egregious human rights violations amounting to genocide, Coca-Cola is silent.
Coca-Cola’s human rights policy states that “respect for human rights is a fundamental value” of the massive company.
“For more than 130 years, the Company has built a reputation on trust and respect and we are committed to earning that trust with a set of values that represent the highest standards of integrity and excellence,” the policy claims.
Coca-Cola also states that it strives “to respect and promote human rights in accordance with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights.”
For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been systematically suppressing minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Reports from witnesses to the abuse have revealed killings, torture, rape, enslavement, forced separation of children from their parents, forced sterilization and abortion, enforced disappearances, and destruction of cultural and religious heritage.
China expert Adrian Zenz even characterized China’s suppression of Muslim Uyghurs – which has reportedly impacted over 1.5 million people – as “probably the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust.”
The Chinese Communist Party’s clear violations of Coca-Cola’s human rights policy wasn’t enough to stop the company from sponsoring the Beijing Winter Olympics. During testimony in front of the Congress’ Commission on China last year, the beverage giant justified its sponsorship by claiming it “follow[s] the athletes.”
“Across our sponsorships, our credo is simple: we follow the athletes. We do not select venues. We do not endorse cities, countries, or governments. We sponsor events and competitors. We ensure that the vast majority of our funding flows to the athletes. With the Olympics, for instance, 90 percent of our funding flows to 206 National Olympic Committees, their teams and athletes, and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. Team USA is the largest single beneficiary of this funding,” said Paul Lalli, Coca-Cola’s Global Vice President of Human Rights, in written testimony.
Coca-Cola did not respond to American Military News’ request for comment on how the company justifies backing the Olympics in Beijing.
Late last year, more than 40 nations condemned China’s human rights abuses in a statement issued at the United Nations and called on Beijing to allow unrestricted access to Xinjiang by independent observers, including the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
“We have seen an increasing number of reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations, including reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children,” said the statement, read by Nicolas De Riviere, France’s ambassador to the U.N., at a meeting of the General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee.
The statement was the third of its kind, with the first taking place in 2019 with 23 nations and the second occurring in 2020 with nearly 40 nations.
“We urge China to ensure full respect for the rule of law and to comply with its obligations under national and international law with regard to the protection of human rights,” the statement said.
The Olympics has long been a money-maker for big business, and while Coca-Cola attempts to portray its sponsorship as innocently focused on the athletes, this isn’t the first time Coca-Cola has ignored China’s human rights abuses in the interest of the company’s bottom line.
In late 2020, the iconic brand lobbied Congress to weaken legislation that sought to ban imported goods produced using forced labor in Xinjiang, The New York Times reported