With the Beijing Olympics Approaching, Coke Needs to Confront China’s Human Rights Abuses

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

Next month, China will host the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the most ill-advised venue for the games since Adolf Hitler brought the 1936 Olympics to Berlin. Even as China has become one of the world’s largest economies, President Xi Jinping’s government has accelerated its crackdown on dissent and free speech in Hong Kong and its mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. Xi has defied international calls for reform and made clear his intention to punish those who stand in his way, both inside China and abroad. The government’s widespread human rights abuses, and its defiant refusal to engage on these issues, pose formidable challenges for foreign governments, Olympic athletes, and commercial sponsors of the games, like Coca-Cola.

In December, President Joe Biden sent an important message when he announced that no senior U.S. government officials will attend the games in response to China’s egregious human rights abuses. The leaders of Canada, Japan, Australia, and other countries have announced similar diplomatic boycotts.

It is unreasonable to ask Olympic athletes to withdraw from the Olympics. While some activists have urged a full boycott, I share the prevailing view that athletes who have trained for years to compete at the Olympic level should be encouraged to do so. Most athletes will not want to comment publicly on China’s poor human rights record, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a special responsibility to protect those who do from retribution by the government. 

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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.