Sport isn’t the only thing on the minds of multinationals in Beijing, writes Antony Loewenstein
Human rights issues? What human rights issues?
With only a few weeks until the start of the Beijing Games, this seems to be the message from corporate sponsors of the event. The New York Times explains:
“McDonald’s is running a ”˜Cheer for China’ television ad. Nike ads feature China’s star hurdler, Liu Xiang, and other Chinese athletes besting foreign competitors. Earlier this year, Pepsi even painted its familiar blue cans red for a limited edition ”˜Go Red for China’ promotion.
“The campaigns for Western companies are part of an advertising blitz the likes of which this ostensibly communist nation has never seen. Ads are papered over bus shelters, projected on giant outdoor television screens and plastered on billboards. Commercials even flicker at commuters as they zoom through subway tunnels.
“China, already the world’s second-largest advertising market, after the United States, is a dream for consumer product companies. ”˜For most international brands here, China is the growth market for the next 10 years,’ said Jonathan Chajet, strategic director at Interbrand, which consults on brands.”
Despite pressure some months ago to persuade multinationals to boycott the “Genocide Games”, China’s nationalism is clearly too strong a factor to avoid (along with the potential of massive profits.) The International Olympic Committee is also behaving badly.
Arvind Ganesan, the Director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, told Harpers magazine last week that he was concerned about the role of multinationals in China and their deafening silence over abuses:
“”¦All of the companies claim to have some sort of ”˜socially responsive’ policies and two of them, GE and Coke, are actually part of an initiative called the ”˜Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights.’ They have made public commitments to be progressive companies when it comes to human rights, but they have been silent about the situation in China.”
And the reason why?
“Through NBC, GE has paid hundreds of million of dollars to broadcast the Olympics. Given how much it has invested as a sponsor, let’s see how critical they are going to be.”
It’s inevitable that some of the Western media covering the sporting events will also discuss human rights abuses. It’s important that dissidents are not forgotten in the rush to celebrate athleticism. Take the case of imprisoned Du Daobin, whose case has been highlighted by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ):
“Du, 43, a dissident writer and former editor of Human Rights Poetry, was sentenced in 2004 to three years’ jail for ”˜inciting subversion of state power’ for publishing 26 articles in 2004 that were critical of the Government. The sentence was suspended to four years’ probation with two years’ deprivation of political rights.
“The IFJ has learnt that Du, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre’s Writers in Prison Committee, was detained by police in Hubei on July 21 for allegedly publishing dozens of articles under a pseudonym during his probation.
“The charge of ”˜inciting subversion of state power’ has frequently been levelled at writers and journalists who publish articles critical of any aspect of Chinese government policy.”
Beijing is afraid of both aggrieved citizens reaching the capital to protest and any sign of trouble from the outside. There are reportedly 110,000 security personnel and more than one million citizens to protect the Games against alleged terrorist threats.
Unfortunately, at least one athlete, an Israeli settler, will be representing the worst aspect of human nature, namely the dispossession of Palestinian land, in her pursuit of a taekwondo medal.
Perhaps the most surreal story of the week was the news that some American participants are considering wearing high-tech masks to protect them from pollution. It may cause problems, however. “When you’re walking around with a mask on, you’re basically saying, ‘You guys stink,’ “ says Scott Schnitzspahn, performance director of the U.S. triathlon team.