U.S. lawmakers slam Coca-Cola, Visa, and other Beijing Olympics sponsors

The giant Olympic rings, which are being temporarily removed for maintenance, can be seen behind the national flag of Japan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the waterfront of Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan, August 6, 2020. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon / File photo

WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) – A bipartisan US Congressional panel on Tuesday blasted US companies sponsoring the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, including Coca-Cola, Visa Inc and Airbnb, accusing them of putting profits before accusations of genocide in China.

Republican Representative Chris Smith told a Congressional Executive Committee on China hearing that sponsors must reconcile their “overt commitment to human rights” with subsidizing the Olympics where the host nation ” actively commits human rights violations ”.

Smith asked each of the executives representing Airbnb (ABNB.O), Coca-Cola (KO.N), Intel (INTC.O), Visa Inc (VN) and Procter & Gamble (PG.N) if the Olympic Games in Beijing is expected to be relocated or postponed due to concerns about human rights violations. All declined to give their opinion or said they had no responsibility for the choice of the site.

“We don’t make decisions at these host venues. We support and follow athletes wherever they compete,” said Paul Lalli, Coca-Cola’s global vice president for human rights.

When asked about the U.S. government’s determination that China was committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, only Steve Rodgers, executive vice president and general counsel for Intel, said he believed it.

“I have read the State Department report. I have studied it and believe its conclusions,” said Rodgers, praising Republican Senator Tom Cotton for his “straightforward response.”

Other leaders have said they respect the US government’s findings, but will not speak out on the matter.

The executives represent the five US companies that have sponsorship commitments throughout the Beijing Games under the Official Olympic Partners Program (TOP).

Rights groups, researchers, former residents and some Western lawmakers and officials say Chinese authorities have facilitated forced labor by detaining around one million Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim minorities in camps since 2016.

President Joe Biden’s administration endorsed the former Trump administration’s determination that detention camps and other abuses amounted to genocide.

China denies any wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centers to combat extremism.

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said the commission was “obsessed with all kinds of lies to vilify China” and that China was confident it would host an exceptional Olympic event.

‘YOU’RE AFRAID’

Cotton called the testimony at the hearing “pathetic and shameful.”

“Obviously, every one of you except Mr. Rodgers has been sent here with orders not to say anything that might offend the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski criticized David Holyoke, head of Airbnb’s Olympic and Paralympic Games partnership, for not speaking out more openly on criticism of the Chinese government that he had blocked Uyghurs and Tibetans to obtain passports and identity cards which would allow them to travel freely and to register at hotels.

“In China, we are required to obey local laws and regulations,” Holyoke said, adding that “human rights are at the heart of our values.”

“You are completely relieving yourself of the responsibility of being complicit in abject discrimination,” said Malinowski.

Asked repeatedly by Malinowski whether Coca-Cola would specifically condemn any Chinese government abuse against Uyghurs, Lalli said without mentioning China: “We respect all human rights.”

Malinowski noted that Coca-Cola was ready to get into US politics and condemn voting restrictions in his home state of Georgia, but would not criticize the Chinese government. Read more

“You are afraid of them in a way that you are not afraid of criticism in the United States. I think it is shameful,” Malinowski told Lalli, adding that it was “absolutely clear” that the company refused to criticize Beijing for fear it would. harm its profits in China.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Richard Pullin and Paul Simao

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