New York Officials Demand Olympic Sponsors Take Action

By Michael Regula

Originally published on Advocate.com December 05 2013 4:39 PM ET

New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is flexing his muscle — and New York’s pension fund — in an attempt to pressure major Olympic sponsors to take a stand against anti-LGBT discrimination in Russia.

Along with New York City Comptroller John Liu, DiNapoli’s office disclosed this week that official letters to ten major sponsors were sent on December 3, urging each corporation to pressure both Russia and the International Olympic Committee to ensure that human rights, safety of the athletes, and free speech are all adequately protected ahead of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

DiNapoli's Tuesday announcement is not the first time he's used his power as the trustee of the state’s $161-billion public pension fund. In 2009, his office divested nearly $87 million in a state retirement fund away from companies doing business in Iran and Sudan. But Tuesday’s move represents the strongest message yet sent to Olympic sponsors demanding action against Russia’s discriminatory laws.

The ten sponsors singled out by DiNaploli were AtoS, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Omega (Swatch), McDonald's, Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa. Alongside 19 institutional investors, with $327 billion of assets under management, the corporate sponsors are looking at major losses to their bottom line if the state decides to divest away from them.

The official letter sent on Tuesday proclaimed that, “While businesses choose to become Olympic sponsors in order to enhance their corporate reputation, sponsorship of the Sochi Games could have the opposite effect, absent an affirmative disassociation from Russia’s state-sponsored campaign to deny human rights to its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) citizens.”

The letter concludes demanding that the 10 official sponsors:

•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 same day DiNapoli’s office issued the letters, the decision by Russia's highest court to uphold the country’s so-called gay propaganda law was published. Since President Putin signed the law in June, LGBT Russians and visitors have been arrested, beaten, and harassed with increasing frequency under the state-sanctioned homophobia. The law imposes fines and possible jail time for anyone found guilty of disseminating "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in a forum visible to minors. Thus far, the International Olympic Committee has said it is "completely satisfied" with the vague promises from Russian Olympic officials that there will be "no discrimination of any kind." 

Click below to view the entire letter: