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  • Darfur Group Says Olympic Sponsors Must Fight Violence in Sudan


    "If sponsors are going to receive the benefits of association with Olympic values – in reputation, marketing, and access to Chinese markets – they are also obligated to uphold and advance those Olympic values," reads the Dream for Darfur report. (Getty Images)  
    (ATR) A report card from the non-profit group Dream for Darfur gives failing grades to sponsors of the Beijing Olympics for not pressuring China and its ally Sudan to end the genocide in Darfur. But sponsors and the IOC say there may be more effective approaches to solving this crisis than the Olympics can offer.

    New York-based Dream for Darfur gives the 12 IOC worldwide sponsors, plus seven other high-visibility Beijing sponsors and suppliers, bad marks on pushing Beijing to alleviate suffering in Darfur.

    "The multinational companies that underwrite and help stage the Olympic Games have vast resources, and are in a position to speak up about the tarnishing of the Olympics by China’s ongoing support of Khartoum’s genocidal campaign," reads the introduction to And Now…Not a Word from Our Sponsors.

    Dream for Darfur's legal argument rests on the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

    Beginning in June this year, Dream for Darfur began a quiet campaign to contact sponsors and ask them to push Beijing to persuade Sudan to accept a robust peacekeeping force, suspend aerial bombardment of civilians, and open up the Darfur region to relief workers, among other actions.

    The report gives each company points for their actions on the Darfur issue. Most companies earned five points for naming a company executive to "oversee issues relating to how the Darfur issue can be substantively resolved prior to the Olympics." GE finished with the highest score – 30 – for having contacted the Olympic Movement about the Darfur issue and for donating aid to the region's refugees.
    Coke has earmarked $9 million over the next three years for rebuilding communities in Sudan, according to a company statement. (Getty Images)  

    In a statement to Around the Rings, Coca-Cola says its score should be higher than the 10 it received – because the company has also brought up the issue with the IOC.

    Seven companies, Anheuser-Busch, Atos Origin, Lenovo, Manulife, Panasonic, Samsung and Omega parent Swatch ended with a zero score of a possible 100.

    Dream for Darfur chose the seven sponsors outside of the TOP program for their visibility in the U.S.

    Sponsors – the ones that responded to Dream for Darfur's query – say China's foreign policy is something out of their purview.

    "We have worked with the government in China since 1998, helping to rebuild their consumer photography industry," writes Kodak Chairman and CEO Antonio M. Perez in a letter addressed to the non-profit.

    "In that time, we have learned that while business sometimes has a voice with government in China, the voices of multi-national political leaders, such as the U.N., resonate loudest," he says.

    Executives from GE, Manulife, McDonalds and Visa also sent letters saying the U.N. is the appropriate body to address the Darfur crisis.

    "As an Olympic sponsor, we firmly believe in the spirit of the Olympic movement, and do not feel that it is our place to make political demands of our hosts," writes Robert A. Cook, Manulife senior executive vice president and general manager, Asia.

    Coke also says it has no role in government.

    "While it is not the role of our company [or] other sponsors to directly involve in the internal policy decisions of sovereign nations, we do believe that we can have a positive impact on the countries where we do business," reads a corporate statement issued in response to the report.

    Coca-Cola sells some beverage base in heavily-sanctioned Sudan under permission from the U.S. Treasury Department.

    But Dream for Darfur
    Sponsors "have good reason to be nervous about their association with the Beijing Games," says Dream for Darfur Corporate Outreach Director Ellen Freudenheim. (Getty Images)  
    is not asking sponsors to make policy, says Corporate Outreach Director Ellen Freudenheim.

    "In this case, we are asking, demanding, that multinational corporations have the decency to say to the Olympic host that the Darfur situation threatens their investments as sponsors, threatens the reputation of the Games, and therefore is a matter of business concern, as well as a moral issue, for both the Olympic host and the sponsors themselves," she tells Around the Rings.

    The sponsor letters quoted in the report uniformly share in Dream for Darfur's condemnation of the situation in western Sudan while rejecting the utility of Olympic-tied action.

    The IOC received a copy of the report as it was released on Nov. 26.

    "The IOC has had every hope that diplomatic efforts, international support and negotiations to resolve the situation in Darfur would have shown more success since 2003. We continue to hope that this will be the case as quickly as possible to end human suffering," a spokeswoman tells Around the Rings.

    "We hope that continuing international diplomatic efforts, which we believe are the proper means in this case, are successful in resolving the situation as quickly as possible," she says.

    IOC president Jacques Rogge has called human rights campaigns to highlight problems in China noble, but suggested that they are misguided about the Olympics.

    "I must say that it is absolutely from their point of view, legitimate to try to get the maximum out of the Olympic Games," he told a British interviewer in October.

    "But don't expect from the IOC what the IOC cannot give. The IOC will contribute to a positive evolution. The Games will contribute. But the Games will not solve all the problems of the world," Rogge continued.

    At least one other Beijing critic is planning a sponsor-aimed campaign. Paris-based Reporters without Borders says it will soon release a letter sent to Olympic sponsors challenging them to do something for human rights in China.

    Written by Maggie Lee

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