A conservative media watchdog group launched a billboard campaign Thursday outside Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters, calling on the soft drink giant to explain its sponsorship of the upcoming Beijing Olympics in light of China‘s human rights abuses.
Accuracy in Media accused the company of hypocrisy with a billboard displaying the phrase: “Why does Coke support genocide?”
The group notes that Coke condemned its home state of Georgia for implementing a new Republican-authored voting law and supported Major League Baseball’s decision to strip Atlanta of the All-Star Game because of the law — yet the multinational remains a major sponsor of the Beijing Games, “despite the fact that China is the greatest source of evil in our world.”
“Coke claims to celebrate diversity but their hypocrisy is disgusting,” said Adam Guillette, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization. “Coca-Cola needs to condemn the brutal communist regime as strongly as they condemned the state of Georgia.”
China has faced increased scrutiny over the past year for stripping Hong Kong of free-speech guarantees, threatening Taiwan, abusing the human rights of Tibetan Buddhists who follow the exiled Dalai Lama and waging what some activists have decried as a genocide against Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. At one point, the watchdog noted that “China even claimed COVID-19 was created on a North Carolina military base.”
In response to the growing backlash against Chinese human rights abuses, President Biden has announced a “diplomatic boycott” of the two-week 2022 Winter Olympics that start Feb. 4 in Beijing. So far, nine other nations have joined the boycott, including Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.
But Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage company, has made no move to end its lucrative financial arrangement as an official sponsor of the Games.
The company, which earned more than $37 billion in revenue last year, has sold soft drinks in Beijing since 1979. And in 2020, it opened half a dozen more production factories in China, giving it the expanded bottling capacity to sell $244 million worth of beverages every year.
On Thursday, Coca-Cola did not respond to a request for comment. However, the company defended its sponsorship of the Games to congressional Republicans in a hearing on July 27.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, had pressed a Coke representative during the hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to explain its “silence” on human rights abuses against an estimated one million Uyghurs.
Paul Lalli, Coke’s global vice president of human rights, responded that the company “stands up for what is right across the world.”
“We’re aware of the reports of the State Department on this issue as well as other departments of the U.S. government,” Mr. Lalli said. “We respect those reports; they continue to inform our program.”
Accuracy in Media said its members have “sent 26,476 emails” to Coke’s board of directors this week, asking them to “condemn China’s actions just as you condemned Georgia.” The group plans to continue the mobile billboard and letter-writing campaign until the end of the Olympics, pushing Coke to break its “total silence” about alleged Chinese human rights abuses.
• Sean Salai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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