* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Tweet Widget Facebook Like Email Corporate sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics should act now to urge Russia to halt the rising tide of discrimination, harassment and threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, 40 of the world's leading human rights and LGBT groups said today, in an unusual joint open letter.
(New York) - Corporate sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics should act now to urge Russia to halt the rising tide of discrimination, harassment, and threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, 40 of the world's leading human rights and LGBT groups said today, in an unusual joint open letter. The letter to all of the leading sponsors of the Sochi Olympics asks them to use their leverage as underwriters of the 2014 Winter Games in a variety of concrete ways. The groups urged sponsors to speak out against Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law, which violates the Olympic Charter's principle of nondiscrimination, and to ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to undertake systemic reforms to monitor and prevent human rights abuses in future host countries. "Time is running out for the sponsors to take a clear stand in defense of Olympic values," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. "These companies are sponsoring an Olympics marred by ugly discrimination and serious rights abuses. They should speak out forcefully for equality and human rights." The joint letter is addressed to the 10 TOP Sponsors of the Sochi Games (members of "The Olympic Partner" (TOP) Program) - Atos, Coca Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa. The Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, and several other groups have engaged with the sponsors for nearly a year to urge them to act on abuses. "Corporate sponsors are failing to stand up for Olympic values, which they proudly claim to be the core of the Olympic brand," said Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder at All Out. "The IOC has confirmed that the Olympic Charter's Principle 6 includes protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. While the Russian government may be considering amendments to the anti-gay law, sponsors still don't have a good reason to remain silent while gays and lesbians in Russia suffer." The letter was signed by a wide range of international human rights organizations, including All Out, Amnesty International, Athlete Ally, Freedom House, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, PEN, and the Russian LGBT Network. The complete list can be found at the bottom of the letter. The groups call on the Olympic sponsors to take four specific actions:Individually and/or collectively condemn Russia's anti-LGBT "propaganda" law, which clearly violates the Sixth Fundamental Principle of the Olympic Charter("Any form of discrimination … is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement"); Use their Olympics-related marketing and advertising - both domestically and internationally - to promote equality; Ask the IOC to create a body or other mechanismt o prevent serious Olympics-related human rights abuses in host countries and to monitor those that do occur; and Urge the IOC to ensure that future Olympic host countries comply with their commitment to uphold the Olympic Charter, including the principles of nondiscrimination and media freedom.
Preparations for the Sochi Games have been marred not only by anti-LGBT discrimination but also other rights abuses, including exploitation of workers on Olympic venues and other sites in Sochi, forced evictions, environmental and health hazards, and intimidation and harassment of journalists and activists seeking to document these abuses. "Corporations with a track record of support for equality should not shy away from their espoused values by staying silent as Russia wages an attack on its LGBT community," said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign. "In just a few days Russia will be trying to present an international image of a strong, vibrant country. Corporate sponsors must condemn Russia's anti-gay law and not advance President Putin's pageantry."