Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, the Chairman of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), gaveled in a CECC hearing today to urge corporate sponsors of the 2022 Beijing Olympics to leverage their influence to insist on concrete human rights improvements in China. The witnesses—which included executives from Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel, Proctor & Gamble, and Visa—were also pressed regarding how they will manage the material and reputational risks of being associated with an Olympic Games being held in the midst of a genocide perpetrated by the Games’ host country.
The U.S. State Department officially recognizes the Chinese government’s disturbing actions against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang—including torture, imprisonment, forced labor, and pressure to abandon their religious and cultural practice—as genocide. China has a history of using Olympic Games as a spectacle to triumphantly portray the Chinese economic, social, and political system, having already deployed this strategy in 2008, when the country hosted the Summer Olympics amid a major crackdown on Tibetan areas and other human rights abuses.
“As the world watches the Olympics currently unfolding in Japan, this Commission remains deeply disturbed that in less than seven months another Olympic Games are scheduled to begin in the shadow of some of the world’s most egregious human rights abuses,” said Chairman Merkley. “Holding the 2022 Winter Olympics in China and allowing its authoritarian government to reap the ample rewards to its prestige and propaganda of hosting this globally-beloved event does not uphold the Olympic spirit. It is crucial that all of us, including the top American sponsors of the event, make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Throughout the hearing, Chairman Merkley and his CECC colleagues expressed their disappointment with the witnesses’ refusal to commit to supporting the relocation of the 2022 Olympic Games, and their claims that they will be unable to urge the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to eliminate countries committing egregious human rights abuses from future host country consideration. In his closing statement, Chairman Merkley noted that those decisions are deeply disturbing abdications of the companies’ moral responsibility to stand up against the genocide. He pointed out that a similar abdication by nations, sponsors, and Olympic organizations ahead of, and during, the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany may have emboldened the Nazi leadership at a crucial moment in the timeline of their horrific crimes against humanity.
The lawmakers also pressed the witnesses to detail steps being taken to ensure that their goods are not being made using the products of forced labor, and to commit to support any American Olympic athlete who chooses to speak out against the genocide.
Merkley has been at the forefront of the congressional push to strengthen the United States’ commitment to investigating and responding to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China. That work has included the introduction of the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—legislation to ensure that goods made in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region imported into the United States are not made with forced labor. The legislation was passed by the U.S. Senate last month.
Video of the hearing is available here.