Thomas DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller, has written an open letter to the major corporate sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, urging them to withhold their funding in the interest of human rights. The letter is co-signed by twenty others who reportedly "collectively manage over $327 billion in assets."
"We believe that your company, and publicly traded corporations in general, have an obligation toward responsible and sustainable social policies and practices to protect shareholder value," DiNapoli states in the letter. He explains, "This obligation is at the heart of the recently promulgated United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that proclaims that companies have an affirmative obligation to respect human rights and remedy abuses where they affect their business operations. Respecting diversity and equal rights is also good business."
Coca-cola, Atos, Dow, GE, McDonalds, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, and VISA received the letter earlier this week.
Russia's anti-LGBT laws banning "gay propaganda" throughout the country have incited brutal violence against LGBT people and a growing number of asylum seekers. The laws have many concerned for their safety during the upcoming Olympic Games. DiNapoli asserts that anti-LGBT discrimination violates the very nature of the Olympic Charter and the spirit of the event. Despite many campaigns, such as meeting with the IOC president and trying to establish safe spaces (Pride Houses) for LGBT athletes and fans, the oppressive laws are still in place. This latest action from the state of New York seeks to work directly with the sponsors, who are responsible for more than 90% of the Games' funding.
DiNapoli asks for three specific actions from these major corporations:
- Ensure that their nondiscrimination policies are strong, inclusive and enforced globally, especially in regard to employees stationed or on location in Russia;
- Call on the leaders of the Russian Federation to rescind the laws that deprive members of Russia’s LGBT community of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and declare their commitment to equality irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity; and,
- Call on the IOC to obtain firm and express commitments from the Russian government that ensure the safety and human rights of all athletes and attendees of the Winter Games and visitors to the Game’s venues.
On the website for Olympic sponsors, the Games are referred to as "one of the most effective international marketing platforms in the world, reaching billions of people in over 200 countries and territories throughout the world." DiNapoli's letter provides some of the world's most influential corporations with an opportunity to send a message that supports the safety and equality of LGBT people to one of the largest audiences available.
"Thomas DiNapoli, is again demonstrating his leadership on LGBT equality, understanding that values are communicated through funding. This letter sends a strong message that investment should support and promote human rights and LGBT equality," said Omar Sharif Jr., GLAAD's National Spokesperson. "With millions of LGBT people and their allies around the world calling on the International Olympic Committee to uphold its own charter and speak out for the safety and security of LGBT people in Russia, why has the IOC stayed silent?"
You can read more about GLAAD's ongoing efforts to make the Olympics and Russia safe for LGBT people. You can also sign Pride House International's petition to advocate for safe and welcoming spaces of the LGBT community in Sochi.