Blog: Olly WehringCoke stumbles at first Olympic hurdle

Olly Wehring | 22 April 2008

The recent furore over the Olympic torch relay has been noticeable for many, many reasons. Not least of all, is the reticence of the big sponsors to either ally themselves too closely to the Chinese authorities or, for that matter, to the protestors.

The silence of companies like Coca-Cola, it seems, has been deafening.

Take a read, then, of the following comments, which appeared in an opinion piece in The Atlanta Journal, the newspaper in Coca-Cola Co.’s home town, earlier this week.

“By aligning itself with China for an estimated US$75m to $90m, it (Coca-Cola) also aligned itself with China's poor record at home and abroad.

”Coke's been making the argument that it's one thing to sponsor the Olympics - a "force for good" it says - and another to condone the actions of the host country. "It would be an inappropriate role for sponsors to comment on the political situation of individual nations," it says in a recent statement. Coke's attitude is comparable to how some social workers say to deal with a child who's acting out: love the child and ignore the bad behavior.

”That means loving China, even though it is sending weapons to war-torn Darfur, where tens (if not hundreds) of thousands have died in what's generally considered genocide. That means loving China despite its censorship of the media and the Internet. That means ignoring the religious and ethnic oppression perpetrated by Chinese leaders.

”There's only one problem with Coke's reasoning here: China is not a child. Treating it as a naive country that doesn't know better is patronizing at best, and downright insulting at worst.

“Coca-Cola has too much leverage to stay neutral or feign ignorance about what happens. Yet that's exactly what's going on: Coke's desire to avoid controversy is trumping its sense of corporate responsibility.”


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