Below Their Lines: American Corporations Cancel Russia But Remain Silent On Uyghur Genocide

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FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Putin attends the launching ceremony of the new Euro+ combined oil refining unit at the Gazprom Neft Moscow Refinery, via video link outside Moscow

Below Their Lines: American Corporations Cancel Russia But Remain Silent On Uyghur Genocide

Philip Lenczycki on March 12, 2022

  • Major American companies are suspending operations in Russia following the nation’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • All six of the American companies that sponsored the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have taken action against Russia, but none of those companies have altered their operations in the People’s Republic of China despite evidence the nation is committing genocide against ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities.
  • After a congressional hearing regarding Olympic sponsorship in May 2021, all of the American sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics except Mars Inc. submitted statements to the congressional body justifying their Olympic sponsorship.
  • Ethnic Uyghurs decried the corporate world’s hypocrisy in statements and interviews to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

While major corporations responded to the invasion of Ukraine by changing or suspending their business operations in Russia, the six American corporate sponsors of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics remain silent on the Uyghur genocide.

Although Airbnb, Intel, Snickers (Mars Inc.), Visa, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble — the only six American companies to sponsor the 2022 Winter Olympics — adjusted their business operations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, none of the companies have acknowledged the Uyghur genocide nor altered their business plans in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Recognition of the Uyghur genocide at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has risen with mounting evidence of the situation, and over 200 human rights organizations and eight governmental bodies, including Canada, the U.S., Holland, the U.K., Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Belgium and France, have declared that the PRC is guilty of committing crimes against humanity, genocide or both against ethnic Uyghurs and other minority groups.

Yet major American corporations remain silent on the issue, with some business leaders, such as Golden State Warriors owner Chamath Palihapitiya, having even voiced what former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom characterized as an “I could care less” attitude toward the CCP’s human rights abuses.

“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” Palihapitiya said on the All-In Podcast on Jan. 15. “You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you care, the rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things I care about, yes, it’s below my line.”

All of the American sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics  — except for Mars Inc. — submitted statements to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in July 2021 defending their Olympic sponsorship and human rights track record following a joint hearing concerning Olympic sponsorship held by the congressional body and the Lantos Foundation in May 2021.

Here’s how the six American sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics justified their sponsorship, how they have reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and what their current status is with regard to the PRC.


Airbnb

On Feb. 28, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced in a tweet his company would be “working with our Hosts to house up to 100,000 refugees fleeing from Ukraine, for free.”

Airbnb’s revenue was around $6 billion in the last 12 months, according to CNBC, with Bloomberg reporting the company had the best year in its history.

Although it remains unclear precisely how much revenue Airbnb receives from any given global region, there’s no doubt that the company has benefited from Chinese investors. In March 2017, the China Investment Corporation (CIC) supplied $100 million, a 10% stake, to Airbnb during a funding round, Sky News reported at the time. The CIC is a CCP state-backed “sovereign wealth fund” first used to supply $3 billion for Blackstone’s historic 2007 IPO, according to a Reuters report.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

In July 2021, Airbnb submitted a written statement to the CECC in defense of its sponsorship of the Olympics and human rights record, saying “our partnership is designed to support athletes, not any particular city or Games.”

“We recognize that our global footprint means we have and will continue to face complex and challenging issues worldwide,” Airbnb said, although it did not mention Uyghurs or Xinjiang.

On Jan. 7, the CECC wrote to Chesky expressing concern that “some of Airbnb’s listings in [Xinjiang] are located on land owned by an entity sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department” which was “a quasi-military organization” and “directly involved in forced labor and possibly other human rights abuses.”


“While Airbnb continues to maintain listings in [Xinjiang], it has not publicly condemned the continuing genocide taking place there … It also continues to operate in a country whose laws require hosts to discriminate based on ethnicity, place of origin, or lack of a passport, when the ability to obtain a passport can be impossible for people of some ethnic groups,” the letter said.

“While Airbnb has stated that it is committed to anti-discrimination, it has also indicated that it is required to ‘follow local laws and regulations’ in China — a requirement that inherently obliges it to engage in discrimination against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other ethnic minorities in China,” the letter said.

Intel

On March 3, Intel posted a statement on its website, saying “Intel condemns the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and we have suspended all shipments to customers in both Russia and Belarus.”

“We have launched an employee donation and matching campaign through the Intel Foundation that has already raised over $1.2 million for relief efforts,” the Intel statement said. “And we are proud of the work our teams in surrounding areas including Poland, Germany and Romania are doing to aid refugees.”

Intel’s revenue was $79 billion in the last 12 months, according to CNBC, $21 billion dollars of which were earned in China and Hong Kong, according to Statista.

However, only $40 million of Intel’s revenue was earned from its Russian market, according to TADVISER.

The DCNF reached out to Intel, but a spokesperson declined to comment.

Citing a list of concerns, Intel received an “F” rating on the Victim’s of Communism’s “Corporate Complicity Scorecard” report on Feb. 3. The report analyzed Amazon, Apple, Dell, Facebook, GE, Google, Microsoft and Intel on “their exposure to China’s military modernization, surveillance state, domestic securitization, and human rights violations.”

The study found Intel had an “extensive production, research, and development footprint in China, featuring partnerships with government and military-tied entities.” It additionally found that Intel maintained “long-standing ties to the Chinese government, including research collaborations with government research institutions (e.g., CASIA) developing surveillance technologies and elite-level relationships with the institutional players (e.g., MIIT) charged with implementing Beijing’s military-civil fusion strategy.”


The study also found that Intel made “investments in and alongside Chinese military-civil fusion and surveillance-relevant companies” and that the company’s technology was “potentially being incorporated into surveillance efforts in Xinjiang.”

In July 2021, Intel submitted a written statement to the CECC in defense of its sponsorship of the Olympics and human rights record, writing Intel was “proud to be a sponsor of the Olympic Games” and had a “long-standing commitment to corporate responsibility.”

“We are aware of the determinations made by the U.S. Department of State regarding the Xinjiang region, and the U.S. government’s ban on the importation of certain products sourced from the Xinjiang region,” read Intel’s letter. “We have confirmed that Intel does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.”

Snickers / Mars Inc.

On March 1, Mars Inc. issued a statement on its website, saying “we are appalled by what is happening in Ukraine and are striving to provide our courageous Ukrainian Associates with the support they need” before adding that in addition to donating both food and money, Mars suspended social media, advertising and new investment in Russia.

Mars’ revenue was $40 billion in 2021, according to Forbes, with the confectionery manufacturer having $2 billion invested in Russia, according to The Hill, however it remains unclear precisely how much revenue Mars receives from all global regions.

Mars, Inc. did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Still, Mars has steadily increased its presence in the PRC since 2016 when it partnered with Alibaba. This partnership was followed by a push by Mars into the PRC’s pet food market, beginning with a plan to develop a $100 million pet food facility in Tianjin in 2019 and a partnership with e-commerce company JD.com to develop cat food products in 2020.

Visa

On March 5, Visa posted a statement titled “Visa Suspends All Russia Operations” on its website, saying “Visa will work with its clients and partners within Russia to cease all Visa transactions over the coming days … all transactions initiated with Visa cards issued in Russia will no longer work outside the country and any Visa cards issued by financial institutions outside of Russia will no longer work within the Russian Federation.”

“We are compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed,” the Visa statement said. “This war and the ongoing threat to peace and stability demand we respond in line with our values.”


Visa’s revenue was $25 billion in the last 12 months, according to CNBC, with $10 billion in revenue originating in the U.S. in fiscal year 2020, according to a WallStreetZen.com report which cited Visa’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. However, Visa’s international market proportion was larger still, sitting just shy of $12 billion, according to the report.

Visa did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

In July 2021, Visa submitted a written statement to the CECC in defense of its sponsorship of the Olympics and human rights record, writing that the company was “proud to be a longstanding supporter of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” before plugging Visa’s work in promoting “financial literacy programs” in China, as well as Visa’s partnership with the China Women’s Development Foundation, which Visa described as “providing comprehensive business skills training to help an estimated 5,000 women-led small businesses in connection with the Games.”

“It is important to make clear that sponsors like Visa have no say in the countries selected by the IOC to host the Games,” Visa’s letter read. “It has been that way for the entirety of our 35-year partnership and remains that way today.”

Visa did not mention Uyghurs or Xinjiang in its letter to Congress.

Coca-Cola

On March 8, Coca-Cola announced that it would be “suspending its business in Russia,” which the BBC reported “accounted for roughly 2% of the firm’s operating revenue and income.”

Coca-Cola’s revenue was $38 billion in the last 12 months, according to CNBC, with North America generating 34.1% of Coca-Cola’s revenue, 17% of its business originating in Europe (including Russia) and 12.1% arising from the Asia Pacific region, according to Statista.

Coca-Cola did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Coca-Cola and several other major U.S. corporations were named as having suspected ties to forced labor in Xinjiang, according to a CECC report from March 11, 2020.


In July 2021, Coca-Cola submitted a written statement to the CECC in defense of its sponsorship of the Olympics and human rights record, writing that the company was “proud” to be an Olympics sponsor and that the company’s “commitment to human rights” was “sincere and embedded in our culture and strategy.”

Coca-Cola did not mention Uyghurs or Xinjiang in its letter to Congress.

Procter & Gamble

On March 7, Procter & Gamble issued a statement on its website, saying “we proactively suspended operations in Ukraine to help protect our people locally.” “Our continued efforts range from evacuation assistance, to financial and logistical support, to the provision of food, shelter and essential products for P&G families,” the statement said.

The statement outlined Procter & Gamble’s donations to refugee families and relief organizations, and it announced the discontinuation of “new capital investments” and the suspension of “media, advertising, and promotional activity” in Russia.

Procter & Gamble’s revenue was $78 billion in the last 12 months, according to CNBC, with North America accounting for $33 billion of Procter & Gamble’s revenue, Europe (including Russia) generating $15.6 billion and the PRC providing $6.4 billion in 2020, according to a report from Cincinatti.com.

Procter & Gamble did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Procter & Gamble’s growth in the PRC was the greatest of all areas reported, up 22% since 2016, according to the report.

In July 2021, Coca-Cola submitted a written statement to the CECC in defense of its sponsorship of the Olympics and human rights record, writing that “wherever we operate, respecting human rights is fundamental to how we manage our business” before outlining the company’s commitment to “Olympic athletes,” “the Olympics movement,” “LGBTQIA+ athletes,” “women and girls in sports,” and human rights.

Procter & Gamble did not mention Uyghurs or Xinjiang in its letter to Congress.


The DCNF reached out to activists within the Uyghur diaspora for comment on the corporate reactions to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Uyghur genocide.

Dr. Mamtimin Ala, the author of “Worse than Death: Reflections on the Uyghur Genocide” and the European representative of the unrecognized East Turkistan Government-in-Exile (ETGE), said the disparity in responses indicates a selective version of justice.

“The Ukrainian crisis has sadly shown to the Uyghurs the two faces of humanity  — one is caring and the other is indifferent,” Ala told the DCNF. “Actually, it is just one face, which is selective in its application of justice to different peoples for different reasons.”

Salih Hudayar is the elected prime minister of ETGE. “To date, over 320 companies across the world have either terminated or curtailed their business operations in Russia in protest of the invasion of Ukraine,” Hudayar told the DCNF. “Yet, many of these companies continue to do business — either directly or through joint ventures — in East Turkistan despite the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples by Communist China.”

“Suffice to say, we are repulsed by the rank hypocrisy of these corporations, all of whom pay lip service to human rights when convenient, but as soon as upholding human rights hurts their bottom line they quickly turn a blind eye to Communist China’s ongoing genocide in East Turkistan,” Hudayar said. “Thus, we call upon the corporate world to prove that their concern for human life isn’t ‘region specific,’ but rather universal.”

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