When the 2022 Winter Olympics commenced in Beijing, China, last week, athletes took to the snow and ice in the same land where genocide is carried out. American companies Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Airbnb, Intel and Visa have teamed up with China to sponsor the Olympics while turning a blind eye to genocide, showing shocking and blatant hypocrisy.
For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been systematically suppressing minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Grim 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 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.” As such, China has become one of the worst violators of human rights in the world.
In light of the disturbing reports coming out of Xinjiang, leaders around the world announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics, including the United States, Denmark, The Netherlands, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and Canada.
Despite the international outcry surrounding the CCP’s egregious human rights abuses, for several major American corporations, standing up for human rights ends where making money in China begins.
Here’s a look at five major American corporations that have vowed to stand up for human rights around the world, but have turned a blind eye to the CCP’s genocide of the Uyghurs in order to justify sponsoring the Beijing Olympics.
Procter & Gamble
In a human rights policy statement issued in March 2021, Procter & Gamble claimed “respect for Human Rights” was “fundamental” to the way the company is managed. Procter & Gamble also wrote that it is “committed to doing the right thing by respecting human rights in every aspect” of their business operations, including as it relates to employees, consumers, the communities in which they do business and business partners.
The company wrote that it has earned a “reputation of trust and integrity” which sets it apart and that customers of the massive corporation “know that we do what we say, and say what we mean.”
In the CCP’s Olympic Village, just a half-day train ride from where party leaders are facilitating genocide, Procter & Gamble has opened a beauty salon.
American Military News asked Procter & Gamble how the company is upholding its human rights policy as a sponsor of the Beijing Olympics given the CCP’s genocide of Muslim minorities, but the company did not return a request for comment.
In July last year, top U.S. lawmakers voiced similar concerns regarding Procter & Gamble’s sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics. Executives from Procter & Gamble were called to appear in front of Congress’ Commission on China, where the massive company, among others, was accused of valuing profits over human rights.
During the hearing covering “Corporate Sponsorship of the 2022 Beijing Olympics,” a representative for Procter & Gamble reiterated the company’s “commitment to respecting and prioritizing human rights.”
Sean Mulvaney, Senior Director of Government Relations and Public Policy, justified Procter & Gamble’s sponsorship of the Olympics in China by highlighting efforts the company has made to protect human rights, including a 24/7 helpline so anyone can confidentially report human rights concerns.
Mulvaney said the company encourages employees, business partners, non-governmental organizations, or other stakeholders to report “potential human rights concerns related to the business” so it can investigate.
As Procter & Gamble justifies bringing the Beijing Olympics to life, human rights advocates warn that supporting this year’s winter games helps normalize the CCP’s human rights abuses.
“That the Winter Olympics is held in Beijing sends a signal to the world that Xi Jinping’s government is normal,” Renee Xia, Director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said according to Human Rights Watch. “When the world rationalizes away such an abusive situation, it makes it harder for victims to stand up against injustice.”
As one of the most recognizable brands on the planet, Coca-Cola has been an outspoken proponent of human rights in the United States. In April 2021, the company’s chairman and CEO issued a statement condemning the State of Georgia’s voting legislation and called on those to “stand up for what is right” in protecting voting rights.
When it comes to China’s egregious human rights violations amounting to genocide, however, Coca-Cola is silent. Now Coca-Cola is helping the authoritarian CCP regime execute the Beijing Olympics as an official sponsor of the Games.
Like Procter & Gamble, 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.”
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 CCP’s clear violations of Coca-Cola’s human rights policy weren’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.
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 at the time.
Coca-Cola did not respond to American Military News’ request for comment.
Like Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, Airbnb testified in front of Congress’ Commission on China last year over its sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics.
During his testimony, David Holyoke, Head of Olympics and Paralympics Partnerships for Airbnb, said everyone who uses their service must agree to a “global standard” that requires all community members to agree “to treat everyone in the Airbnb community – regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, skin color, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.”
Holyoke added that the “commitment applies to everyone who uses Airbnb around the world.”
While Airbnb’s remarks in front of Congress suggest a dedication to human rights advocacy, the company’s actions speak louder than its words. In addition to sponsoring the Beijing Olympics, Axios reported in November that Airbnb allows rental listings in Xinjiang, the very region where the CCP is facilitating genocide and forced labor, as well as other human rights atrocities, against Muslim minorities.
“Our current presence in [China] reflects our purpose of enabling individual economic empowerment and bringing people together from communities and neighborhoods around the world to bridge cultures, including in China, which is home to roughly 20 percent of the world’s population,” Holyoke said.
As Airbnb is aware, China is also home to roughly 1.5 million people who have been gravely impacted by the CCP-led enslavement, forced sterilization and abortion, and torture.
Airbnb did not return American Military News’ request for comment.
The U.S. semiconductor chipmaker Intel claims human rights are “rooted” in the company’s values “wherever we do business.”
“At Intel, we are committed to maintaining and improving systems and processes to avoid complicity in human rights violations related to our own operations, our supply chain, and our products,” Intel’s website states.
Intel explicitly lists workforce diversity and nondiscrimination, harassment prohibition, prevention of human trafficking, forced labor and child labor, privacy and freedom of expression as core aspects of the company’s principles.
However, when it comes to the CCP’s human rights violations — including forced labor, surveillance and censorship — Intel has appeared to make an exception.
Adding to Intel’s apparent abandonment of its human rights principles when it comes to the CCP, earlier this month, the company removed all references to China’s Xinjiang region after drawing backlash from China for warning suppliers to avoid sourcing materials from the region.
During a hearing before Congress’ Commission on China last year, a representative for Intel said the company is “proud” to sponsor the Olympics, including the Winter Games in Beijing.
Steve Rodgers, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Intel Corporation, claimed the company has an “unwavering commitment to human rights.”
“We are mindful, of course, of potential human rights concerns that may exist in host countries and in connection with preparing for Mega Sporting Events. We do not believe our sponsorship degrades our global commitment to human rights. Our sponsorship is not an endorsement of any specific host country or its government, nor an acceptance or approval of domestic activities that may take place within that country,” Rodgers said.
American Military News asked Intel how it can maintain its human rights policy as a sponsor of the Beijing Olympics in China, where the CCP is committing human rights violations against minorities in Xinjiang, but Intel did not return the request for comment.
For nearly 50 years, Visa says it has taken pride in “operating responsibly, ethically and transparently.” The company has even been formally recognized for valuing human rights – in 2019, Visa was named one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign.
“At Visa, we recognize our responsibility to respect, advance and maintain global human rights standards across our company, operations and supply chain,” Visa’s Corporate Policy and Sustainability Report states.
In Beijing, China — nearly 6,000 miles from Visa’s headquarters in California — the company’s dedication to human rights disappears. Visa has chosen to sponsor the Beijing Olympics despite international outcry over the CCP’s egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
As a sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, Visa is one of three payment choices in the Olympic Village, aside from cash and China’s digital currency, CNN reported.
Appearing in front of Congress last year over its sponsorship of China’s Olympic Games, Visa justified its involvement with stories of how the company has helped Chinese citizens over the years.
“In China, Visa has conducted financial literacy programs for the past decade. As of December 2020, we have helped more than 10 million rural residents live and work better through our financial literacy initiatives,” said Andrea Fairchild, Senior Vice President of Global Sponsorship Strategy at Visa.
“Visa is also partnering with the China Women’s Development Foundation to ensure that the Beijing 2022 Games help advance rural revitalization and leave a strong legacy of economic development in the region,” she continued. “This initiative includes providing comprehensive business skills training to help an estimated 5,000 women-led small businesses in connection with the Games.”
Fairchild did not mention the human rights atrocities occurring in Xinjiang at the hands of the CCP.
American Military News reached out to Visa regarding its Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report and how the company will maintain its ethics standards at the Beijing Olympics as the CCP commits genocide, but Visa did not return a request for comment.
US Olympic Committee
Like the major U.S. corporations sponsoring the Beijing Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOPC) has been soft on the CCP’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.
In December, committee chair Susanne Lyons responded to questions about human rights violations in China by pivoting to an apparent marketing pitch for future America-based Games.
“The best thing we can do is offer the world outstanding opportunities to have Games here in the U.S.,” USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said, according to ESPN. “In Los Angeles and, hopefully, in Salt Lake City.”
USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland even lobbied Congress last year in opposition to a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, asserting that it would not solve any human rights issues occurring in the host country, The Associated Press reported.
Hirshland’s letter to Congress specifically argued that while the USOPC is concerned about human rights violations in China that “undermine the core values of the Olympic movement,” an athlete boycott of the Beijing Olympics “is not the solution to geopolitical issues.”
Speaking in defense of American athletes, the committee repeatedly claimed dedication to its core principles, which include: “promote and protect athletes’ rights, safety and wellness,” “champion the integrity of sport,” “honor and celebrate the legacy of Olympic and Paralympic athletes.”
Earlier this month, an official with China’s Olympics organizing committee threatened athletes participating in the upcoming games with “punishment” for speech that violates Chinese law.
“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected,” said Yang Shu, deputy director general of international relations for the Beijing Organizing Committee, as reported by The Washington Post. “Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”
Noting Hirshland’s comments that an athlete boycott is not the answer to China’s human rights violations, American Military News asked the USOPC what organization leaders believe is a good approach to addressing those issues. American Military News also asked if there was any circumstance in which the USOPC would punish an athlete for breaking a host country’s rules.
The USOPC did not respond to American Military News’ request for comment.