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During the 1930s, when I was a kid, I read that some big-time American companies were actually doing business with Hitler. I asked my father—who, as a young man, had escaped from Russia, the land of pogroms—how on earth this was possible.
“Profits,” he said bitterly, adding to my education in the ways of the world.
More than ever, it’s acutely relevant whether corporations—now with global reach—profit from regimes that commit horrendous crimes against their own people.
Last month, a New York–based human rights group, the nonprofit Dream for Darfur, released a 70-page report card, And Now . . . Not a Word From our Sponsors, in which they graded 19 corporate sponsors of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on their response to the genocide in Darfur.
“Sponsors,” says Jill Savitt, executive director of Dream for Darfur, “have an obligation to protect . . . their own reputations; they need to press the Chinese host [Sudan’s main business partner and protector] to take action or risk being sponsors of what will go down in history as the Genocide Olympics.”
Added Ellen Freudenheim, the organization’s corporate outreach officer: “Top global companies, from General Electric to Panasonic to Volkswagen, stand to gain vast prestige and visibility in China’s burgeoning market by aligning themselves with the games and the lofty Olympic values of friendship and humanity. But their Olympic sized investments of tens of millions of dollars could be diminished if the legacy of the Beijing Games is associated with inaction in the face of genocide.”
Mia Farrow of Dream for Darfur put it more bluntly: “This is blood money. . . . Fear of losing money is . . . not compared to the women who are being attacked today . . . and the children who are being thrown into bonfires.”
Among the other corporations contacted by Dream for Darfur during 16 months of discussions are the Adidas Group, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Coca-Cola, General Electric (owner of NBC, which bought the broadcasting rights to the Genocide Olympics), Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Staples, Microsoft, and Eastman Kodak.
In its 70-page report card, Dream for Darfur reveals that not one company has been “willing to acknowledge publicly that . . . the ongoing genocide in Darfur is morally unacceptable for the Olympic host.”
Appropriately, Jill Savitt calls these sponsors, partners, and suppliers for the 2008 Olympics—which will begin on August 8 of next year, with Steven Spielberg serving as artistic director—”handmaidens to a dubious coronation.”
The “Olympic Corporate Sponsors’ Pledge”—which these sanitizers of genocide were asked to sign by Dream for Darfur—included this promise:
“In light of the unique relationship our esteemed Olympic host has with the government in Sudan, and in our role as friends and supporters of the Chinese government, we pledge to urge the Chinese government to utilize its position to help Khartoum consent to a true international civilian protection operation for Darfur and a good-faith peace process well before the August 2008 start of the games.”
Despite the honey-coated language of the sponsors’ pledge, not one of the 19 corporations has signed it.
There will be more report cards from Dream for Darfur before the coronation date. Referring to that fateful day, Jacques Rogge—president of the International Olympics—dreamily prophesied in August of this year: “I can already begin to imagine the exhilarating atmosphere the crowds will create as the athletes parade into the arena on 8 August.”
The actual atmosphere on that fateful day could make Rogge’s blood run cold, because Dream for Darfur has other plans for putting even greater pressure on these corporate sponsors and their “esteemed” host to get Sudan to stop the genocide. If they refuse, not even Steven Spielberg will be able to make the 2008 Olympics palatable to the world.
Dream for Darfur is telling the corporate sponsors—and the American and world public—that “it is working with other advocacy organizations on organizing protest events at sponsors’ headquarters, and a mass consumer write-in campaign, as well as contacting the investment community.” (Emphasis added.)
Among the advocacy organizations already interested in targeting corporate sponsors are Save Darfur and STAND—A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, part of the Genocide Intervention Network. STAND has more than 700 chapters at schools around the globe. In addition, Save Darfur includes many active organizations and individuals.
During a Dream for Darfur press conference on November 27, Mia Farrow—speaking about future actions by the group—said, “We are appealing to the public . . . to put more pressure on these companies [and for] the press to do its job. . . . Business is not as usual when we talk about mass atrocities.”
“Will you be calling for a consumer boycott [on the sponsoring corporations]?” asked a questioner.
“We have been hearing,” Farrow answered, “from communities of survivors that they want to participate in a very large way. Who, then, better to speak about genocide than communities of survivors? And I know they are planning campaigns of their own as well to make their own message clear to the sponsors.”
To get involved in the campaign targeting corporate sponsors of the Olympics, contact Dream for Darfur at 646-823-2412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mia Farrow also said: “There’s a woman who gave me this amulet . . . I wear it around my neck. When her village was first burned, she was holding her baby in her arms when the Janjaweed attacked . . . but he was torn from her arms anyway and bayoneted before her eyes. That day, three of her five children were slaughtered. [She] said, ‘Tell people what is happening here. Tell them we will all be slaughtered. Tell them we need help.’ ”
Do you hear that, G.E., Coca-Cola, Staples, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Panasonic, Volkswagen, et al.?
There’s more to come in future columns—along with reports of China banning protests of any sort at the games. President Bush will be there, he says. Will he turn his American-flag lapel pin upside down?