Corporate sponsors of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, due to start February 7, are continuing to rebuff requests to condemn the anti-gay propaganda law, despite private meetings and repeated campaigns from gay rights activists.
On Tuesday, December 3, however, activists gained an important ally when the State of New York’s Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced that he, alongside a league of investors, has sent letters to ten major sponsorship corporations requesting that they use their influence to “ensure the human rights of Russian citizens, as well as athletes and visitors to the Olympics.”
DiNapoli said in a statement, “The Russian government’s discriminatory laws have cast a shadow over the Olympics.”
He then added that sponsors should “stand up for the respect and equality enshrined in the Olympic movement, advocate for human rights, and confront abuses.”
The letter called for action threefold. Firstly, to make sure they consider that their own non-discrimination policies should be enforced globally, specifically with regards to Russian employees.
Secondly, the letter asked sponsors to express their stance on the anti-gay laws to Russia.
Thirdly, sponsors were asked to collaborate with the International Olympics Committee (IOC) “to obtain firm and express commitments from the Russian government,” ensuring the rights and protection of athletes and visitors at the Sochi Games.
Amongst others, letters were sent to Coca-Cola, Omega (Swatch), McDonalds, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa.
DiNapoli has a history of using the state retirement fund of $161 billion as leverage to press for corporate changes. In all of these cases, he has expressed that his intention is to protect shareholders’ values rather than to promote a progressive agenda.
Currently Russia is considering a bill to remove children from the homes of gay and lesbian parents outright, and has recently outlawed the adoption of Russian children to parents from every country but Italy.
Advocates are hoping that international interference, expressed most significantly at the Sochi Games, will force Russia to reconsider its current legal restrictions on the LGBT community.
DiNapoli’s move has been the first one from a state comptroller taking action against the Russian law.
Activists intend to continue requesting action from the IOC as well as corporate sponsors to speak out against the propaganda ban until they get an adequate response.