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Two Olympic Sponsors Respond to NYS Comptroller Letter

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Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. | ANDREW HILL/ NYS COMPTROLLER'S OFFICE
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. | ANDREW HILL/ NYS COMPTROLLER'S OFFICE

Two of 10 corporate sponsors of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia have responded to an investor effort led by the New York State comptroller calling on them –– in the wake of Russia's recent enactment of anti-gay legislation –– to “stand up for the respect and equality enshrined in the Olympic movement, advocate for human rights, and confront abuses.” A wave of homophobic violence has swept Russia since the new law was adopted this past summer.

George R. Hamilton, the vice president of Olympic Operations for Dow Chemical –– responding to a December 3 letter from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also signed by City Comptroller John Liu and 19 private investment firms –– wrote about the company’s pro-gay policies and said he had “personally, as early as July, expressed our concerns” about the ant-gay laws to the IOC and Sochi Organizing Committee, “as have numerous other Dow employees as they join the planning calls for the upcoming Olympics.” Hamilton agreed that “full inclusion of LGBT employees” is “a business imperative.”

The Swatch Group, makers of Omega, took a different tack, noting that “Omega is official Time keeper of the Olympics since 1932, not a sponsor” — a record that put the company in Berlin in 1936 at the Olympic Games presided over by Adolf Hitler. G.N. Hayek, Swatch’s CEO, writing from the company’s Swiss headquarters, told DiNapoli that the company has never boycotted the Games even when some countries have. Bloomberg News had earlier reported that Swatch issued a statement saying it would be “inappropri­ate for us to take any position that could have even the appearance of partisansh­ip.”

Hayek went on to chastise DiNapoli over US policies such as “the massif [sic] collection of date [sic] of the NSA,” writing that these threaten “the integrity of our internal confidential information” and “can cause huge damage to our company and shareholde­rs.” He wrote, “As an investor you should… speak up loud about such potentially damaging practices coming from the USA.”

Bloomberg News reported that Coca-Cola “won’t withdraw sponsorship to avoid undermining gay athletes who’ve spent years preparing for the competition. ‘A more positive impact can be made through continued involvement, rather than by sitting on the sidelines,’ Anne Moore, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said by email.”

The other Olympic sponsors approached by DiNapoli were AtoS, General Electric, McDonald’s, Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa.

The letter called on the sponsors to enforce strong nondiscrimination policies in their worldwide operations, press the Russian government to repeal the new anti-gay legislation, and tell the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “to obtain firm and express commitments from the Russian government” on the safety and rights of athletes and visitors at the Games.

DiNapoli's letter noted the recent protests against the inaction of the sponsors and the activist calls for boycotts of their products and services, emphasizing that taking the actions requested “will help protect your company’s brand and reputation, and, consequently, your profits and our investments.”

DiNapoli, as the manager of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, oversees a portfolio of $161 billion.

On December 10, the IOC announced that the Russian government had agreed to create designated protest zones in Sochi, a move undoubtedly linked to the growing global protest over its anti-gay posture. At the same time, the IOC has been emphasizing the strict prohibition on political activity by athletes at the Games. And one day before the announcement of the Sochi protest zones, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Dmitry K. Kiselyov, a stridently homophobic loyalist, to head up a newly consolidated state media organization. According to the New York Times, Kiselyov, last year, said that gays "should be forbidden from donating blood, sperm. And in the case of an automobile accident, their hearts should be buried in the ground or burned.”

Queer Nation NY, which has spearheaded numerous protests against the new Russian law, responded to the IOC's announcement of the Sochi protest zones by calling its president to task.

“Thomas Bach needs to reread the Olympic Charter that he was entrusted to defend," said Ken Kidd, a member of the group. “Rather than endorsing some imaginary corral where people can be who they are and say what they think, he should be demanding unfettered freedom of expression for all Olympic athletes, attendees, and staff. He seems to think he’s working for the Kremlin.”

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

07rescue says:
Not only is the head of the IOC acting like he is working for the Kremlin in his intimidation of free speech by Olympic participants, so is NBC, which is not covering any news about Russian human rights abuses of LGBT people during the prelude to the Sochi Games, where NBC stands to make millions in advertising revenues. Keeping things pretty for the advertisers trumps journalism at NBC. So which is the worse tyrant, the dictator or dollars? Putin just destroyed the one state news agency that bore some resemblance to an independent press in Russia; RIA Novosti, which had been covering the LGBT human rights abuse issue. In it's place he created the new propaganda machine, under the leadership of Kiselyou, the virulent homophobe who wants to "burn the hearts" of gay people, saying he had rid the state of an "enemy of Russia". The most chilling aspect of this is the question of what will happen to LGBT Russians when the white hot spotlight of international attention on Russia before the Games is removed after they are over? After NBC leaves with their millions in revenue, athletes leave with their medals and sponsorship contracts, sponsors leave with their spike in sales… Will they face even greater backlash from vigilante hate groups stalking and attacking them? More state sanctioned hate crimes? More laws passed criminalizing them, and more ruthless demagogues demonizing them? Russian LGBT activists there say conditions will become much worse. There will be no brake on the hate campaign against them. After the Big Money leaves Sochi and their investment dollars are no longer at risk, how will we make the world care? Jay Kallio
Dec. 12, 2013, 6:58 am
jimfouratt says:
there are many fingers on the hands of protest surrounding the Olympics, the safety of L&G athletes competing and the LGBT public in attendance must be central to any protest . I thank both State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and City Comptroller Johj Liu for this direct challenge to the sponsors. I too have written each of the sponsors as have many others . We need to keep the eyes of the world on the LGBT community in Russia both during and after the Games ...and I side with those that support our out athletes to compete... The treatment of the Pussy Riot women and Putin'S attacks on feminiSTs and the treatment of LGBT PEOPLE needS to be linked in the way in the very begining of our liberation movement birthed here in the Stonewall rebellion the Gay Liberation Front linked issues with common causes . One more example of how Church and State must be seperated . The success of our collective movement world wide is seeing a backlash. We see her in the rsing hate language and physical attacks as we we see it in Russia when out activists are brutally attacked by thugs and state security forces. We see it inthe recent reversal of teh Sodomy law in India. But what is also know is that we will not go back into the closet and allof us here hav a role to play in supporting all lesbians and gay men under attack everywhere. I support the calling out of trans-national corporations that put profit over human rights. We allneed to listencarefully to what the LGBT in the countries where they are threatened have to say ...and be sensitive to the fact that we have not eradicated homophobia and myscoenyhere and it is a worldwide struggle.
Dec. 13, 2013, 3:10 am
Harris Lirtzman says:
That Dow Chemical responded with platitudes and that Swatch responded with entirely correct but irrelevant pontification demonstrates that the letter from the two Comptrollers fully served its purpose: to provide political cover for doing nothing themselves, asking nothing concrete of the sponsors and for kicking the question of divestment of Russian investments from City and State investment portfolios down the road until well beyond Sochi, and in DiNapoli's case, conveniently past the election next year. The problem is compounded by DiNapoli's unwillingness to provide more than the most rudimentary information about the Russian holdings in the NYSLRS portfolio beyond the fact that it is a vanishingly small part of a $160 billion fund. LGBT people are being beaten and killed in Russia. The State Comptroller claims both a "fiduciary responsibility" to hold onto the Russian investments and to the argument, discredited during the South African divestment movement of the 1970s/80s, that investors can have a more immediate ameliorative effect by maintaining an investment presence in Russia. I doubt that Mr. Putin cares about the $200 million State investment and I am certain that the funds can be invested at an equal or better return if liquidated. I call on Mr. DiNapoli to stop sending pointless letters and to start making meaningful decisions by liquidating the State's Russian investments.
Dec. 25, 2013, 10:07 pm

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