FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

China Olympics, Tibet Crackdown, Coke Profits

by AMIT SRIVASTAVA

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.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
July 20, 2017
Sebastian Friedrich – Gabriel Kuhn
A New Class Politics
Patrick Cockburn
The Massacre of Mosul: More Than 40,000 Civilians Feared Dead
Paul Street
The Abandonment: Reflections on James Foreman’s “Locking Up Our Own”
Kim Codella
A Practical Education
Frank Scott
America’s Trump, Not Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Clancy Sigal Goes Away
Don Monkerud
The Real Treason in DC: Turning Our Lives Over to Corporations
Brian Dew – Dean Baker
Are Amazon’s Shareholders Suckers?
Ralph Nader
Detecting What Unravels Our Society – Bottom-up and Top-down
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Covering Islam, Post-Jack Shaheen
Binoy Kampmark
Uhlmann’s Trump Problem
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone
Barry Lando
Those Secret Putin-Trump Talks
Sean Marquis
Thank You, Donald Trump
July 19, 2017
Adam Ziemkowski and Rebekah Liebermann
How Seattle Voted to Tax the Rich
Patrick Cockburn
Why ISIS Fighters are Being Thrown Off Buildings in Mosul
John W. Whitehead
Zombies R Us: the Walking Dead of the American Police State
Mateo Pimentel
Net Neutrality’s Missing Persons
Adil E. Shamoo - Bonnie Bricker
Yemen Policy is Creating More Terrorists
L. Ali Khan
U.S. Misreads Pakistan’s Antifragility
David Macaray
Fear and Trembling in the Workplace
Brian Trautman, Gerry Condon and Samantha Ferguson
Veterans Call on U.S. to Sign Nuclear Ban Treaty
Binoy Kampmark
Militarising Civilian Life: Australia, Policing and Terrorism
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuelan Opposition “Consultation”: Playing Alone and Losing
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Cold-Hearted Agenda is Immoral
Raul Castro
We will Continue to Advance Along the Path Freely Chosen by Our People
July 18, 2017
James Bovard
Obama’s AWOL Anti-War Protesters
Gary Leupp
CNN: “Russia is an Adversary, Ukraine is Not.”
Ryan Shah
Beware the Radical Center
John Carroll Md
Cold Hands Don’t Need Narcotics
Derrick Jensen
Endangered Species Don’t Need an Ark – They Need a Living Planet!
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Canadian Conjucture
Arturo Lopez-Levy
Trump’s Cuba Restrictions: a Detour, Not the Future
Russell Mokhiber
State Street Bentley University Business Ethics and Corporate Crime
Laura Finley
Being Too Much
Robert J. Gould
What is Our Experience of our Flawed Democracy?
Taju Tijani
The Burden of Indivisible Nigeria
Guillaume Pitron
China Now Leads in Renewables
Ted Rall
How I Learned Courts are Off-Limits to the 99 Percent
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail