China Olympics, Tibet Crackdown, Coke Profits


Responding to a question about Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic Torch Relay at the Coca-Cola shareholders meeting last week, Mr. Isdell, CEO of Coca-Cola, defended the sponsorship by referring to the Olympic Torch as a symbol of hope and openness.

At about the same time, the Olympic Torch was being run in New Delhi, India. On hand were over 15,000 armed security personnel, including Indian paramilitary forces and Chinese security, and the public was largely banned from attending. On hand to view the ceremonies were a very select few, including a group of children outfitted with Coca-Cola T-shirts.

Surely Mr. Isdell got it wrong? The Olympic Torch being paraded through a hastily shortened route in New Delhi surrounded by some of the tightest security the city has ever seen with the public largely kept away is hardly symbolic of the hope and openness that the Olympic Torch supposedly symbolizes.

Ongoing protests around the Olympics Torch Relay to highlight China’s occupation of Tibet is a refreshing reminder that no amount of "feel good" advertising and "brand" associations can whitewash the reality – that the Chinese government suppresses human rights in Tibet.

The Olympic Torch Relay, sponsored primarily by three corporations – US based Coca-Cola, South Korea based Samsung and China based Lenovo – are critical to the Chinese governments attempts to paint a picture of China that is open and tolerant – regardless of the pending human rights concerns.

And China is not the first government that has attempted to use the Olympic Games to gain credibility from a global audience. In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Nazi Germany, and the Nazis had the same goal – to extract credibility from the world community.

For Coca-Cola, however, the Olympic Games and the Torch Relay provide a tremendous marketing opportunity, associating its brand with the feel good games that has arguably the largest audience in the world. Coca-Cola has reportedly invested more that US$100 million into the Games. The promise of financial returns from the sponsorship are too great for any human rights or environmental concerns to put a damper on their plans.

While China hopes to benefit politically by hosting the Olympic Games, Coca-Cola aspires to profit financially from the Olympic Games.

Coca-Cola, it seems, will sponsor just about anything, as long as it sees potential profits.

The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games were used by the Nazis to paint a picture of Germany as a peaceful and tolerant Germany, even though the persecution of Jews, Romas and others deemed undesirable by the state in Germany had already started. The first permanent Nazi concentration camp had opened in Dachau in 1933 – three years prior to the Olympics – and Jews were not allowed to participate in the Games.

Coca-Cola was a primary sponsor of the 1936 Games. And the first modern day Olympic Torch Relay was initiated in Berlin in 1936, and Coca-Cola was its sponsor at that time too.

While the magnitude of horror inflicted by Nazi Germany is unsurpassed and we hesitate to make comparisons with China’s oppression in Tibet, one must raise serious concerns about corporate sponsorships that do not take human rights concerns into account, as was and is the case with the Coca-Cola company.

In fact, Coca-Cola’s involvement in Nazi Germany went further. While the Coca-Cola company was supplying Coke to Allied soldiers on the war front, its German counterpart, Coca-Cola GmbH, was busy selling Coca-Cola to Germans. When Coca-Cola GmbH could no longer receive the syrup from the US after the US entered the war in 1941, it developed a drink using ingredients available in Nazi Germany called Fanta.

It seems that Coca-Cola had hedged its bets. If the Allies won, Coca-Cola would rule the world and if the Nazis won, Fanta would.

To be fair, Coca-Cola was not the only company to hedge its bets during World War II. But the extent to which companies will go to ensure future markets and profits, however unethical, is disturbing. And Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic Torch Run and the Beijing Games is just that – unethical and devoid of morality.

It makes no difference whether Tibetans are murdered, tortured or intimidated by the Chinese government. Its mandate is to increase its sales in China, and it will do nothing to risk losing access to these emerging markets, particularly at a time when its sales in the US are declining as consumers become more health savvy.

The current protests around the Olympic Torch Relay are a perfect moment to scrutinize the role that corporations play in this day and age of globalization and send a clear message to the corporations that human rights must come before profits.

On the one hand, there is increased talk of Corporate Social Responsibility – which is corporation’s response to globalization – in which Coca-Cola figures prominently. Yet, when a pressing issue such as Tibet comes to the fore, Coca-Cola chooses to remain silent and endorse the Games for financial reasons, absurdly citing "openness" and "hope" to defend their involvement.

On March 20, 2008, over 150 Tibet support groups from around the world penned a letter to the Coca-Cola company labeling its sponsorship of the Games "tasteless" and asking it to ensure that the Olympic Torch does not go through Tibet.

We are not holding our breath to hear anything positively from the Coca-Cola company in this regard.

Many in India are accustomed to Coca-Cola’s doublespeak and spin to divert attention from the real issues. Ironically, the Coca-Cola company has chosen to promote "environmental stewardship" as part of its sponsorship of the Olympic Torch Relay. No matter that thousands of farmers in India have challenged the company for destroying the environment, particularly water resources, that one of its largest bottling plants in India has been shut down because of pollution, and that its own assessment has confirmed what the communities in India have been saying all along.

If we have learnt anything from the past, and the horror of the Nazi Germany era, it is incumbent upon us to demand that the Coca-Cola company act. At the very least, the company should state publicly that the Olympic Torch should not go through Tibet – an unconscionable act, according to Tibetan activists. And if Coca-Cola is serious about being a good corporate citizen and even an average student of history, it must end its sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics to send a strong message that financial profits are secondary to human rights.

Until then, we would encourage all torchbearers to cease being ambassadors for a company that is blind to everything except profits. And encourage consumers to think before they drink Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola’s sponsorship, frankly speaking, is simply not Olympic in spirit.

AMIT SRIVASTAVA is the Director of India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization based in San Francisco, USA.



Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2015
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving