Russian Roulette

Pressure escalates on Sochi corporate sponsors as 40 rights groups urge firms to speak out against anti-LGBT violence.


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The Winter Olympics have traditionally attracted some of the world’s leading brand names as corporate sponsors but this year is proving to be more complex than most with corporate sponsors caught in a potential “buycott” due to the anti-LGBT policies of Russia’s Putin government.

Corporate sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics are under the microscope and are being urged by human rights groups to 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 have documented this call for solidarity in an unprecedented joint open letter.

The joint letter is addressed to the 10 top sponsors of the Sochi Games (members of “The Olympic Partner” (TOP) Program), including Atos, Coca Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa. The letter to the leading sponsors of the Sochi Olympics asks them to use their financial and marketing power as “underwriters” of the 2014 Winter Games to make an impact. The groups, which include Amnesty International, GLAAD, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, urged sponsors to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, which violates the Olympic Charter’s principle of non-discrimination, 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,” says 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 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.

Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder of All Out, says, "The International Olympic Committee 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 laws, sponsors still don’t have a good reason to remain silent way while gays and lesbians in Russia suffer.”

Preparations for the Sochi Games have been marred not only by anti-LGBT discrimination but by other rights abuses also, such as exploitation of workers on Olympic venues and other sites in Sochi, which have been embroiled in allegations of corruption, graft and cronyism. Also reported have been forced evictions, environmental and health hazards, and harassment of journalists and activists seeking to report accurately onsite.

“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,” says Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the HRC. “Corporate sponsors must condemn Russia’s anti-gay law and not advance President Putin’s pageantry.” (hrc.org)

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