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Business Ethics in the News
2014 WINTER OLYMPICS: Corporate Sponsors Hit With Mass Protests
Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014
The 2014 Winter Olympics are fast approaching, but it’s not the athletes that are getting the attention, it’s the protestors. Their target? The top 10 corporate sponsors of the Olympics. Protests are primarily due to Russia’s stance on gay rights, coming to a head with a law passed this June by the Russian Parliament banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” At a Coca-Cola PR event swarmed by protestors in London, a poster read, “Coca-Cola sponsors anti-gay Russian Olympics. Boycott Coke!” All Out, an LGBT-rights group responsible for many of the protests, recognize Coca-Cola’s good record on supporting gay rights in the United States, but is calling on it to do more: “At the very least, they should speak out, consistently with their own values.” Corporate sponsors contribute a substantial portion of the budget for the Olympics, and some say this gives them the ability and obligation to influence how the games are run for the better. On the other hand, speaking out may undermine the company’s relation with the IOC and hosting country. Are the corporate sponsors of the Olympics obligated to use that “seat at the table” to advance social goals? Is it inconsistent of Coca-Cola not to expand their advocacy for gay rights into this sponsorship?
Kirk: I am sympathetic with corporate complaints that they cannot take on every social issue involving every business or event partner they work with. Nonetheless, there are some events so prominent and some partners so odious that the corporate sponsor should voice its disagreement with the behavior or policy of the partner. Coca-Cola, according to a website called Adbranch, was one of three beverage sponsors of Hitler's showcase 1936 Olympics in Berlin. I hope the company regrets this decision. But does Putin's personal identification with the Sochi Olympics and the actions of the Russian Parliament rise to the level where Coca-Cola must withdraw, or at least voice their disagreement. I would say yes, they should at least voice their disagreement prominently, though I would then be tolerant of their continuing as a sponsor. Their claim to be a liberalizing influence requires that they be strongly on record in Sochi as being supportive of gay rights.
Patrick: I think the primary issue here is whether multi-national corporations are obligated to keep a consistent message across all areas of operation. In my view, yes, multi-nationals should have a consistent message across the board. If the corporation decides to take a stand, whether it is on principle or for the goodwill of its customer base, it is obligated to follow through with that position. This isn’t to say that we should expect them to take a stand on every issue at hand, but if there isn’t a commitment to consistency, it’s not a position the corporation should be taking; especially in the age of social media where it will get out quick if that's the case. Now, Coca-Cola isn’t necessarily supporting the views of the Russian parliament on gay rights, but in this case, I think that silence constitutes an inconsistency in its message. A secondary issue is on the nature of the Olympic games, and whether they should be insulated from political discourse — what do you think?
Corporate Sponsors Faulted for Sochi Participation (Al Jazeera America)
A Framework for Thinking Ethically (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)