MAC/20: Mines and Communities

BHP among Olympics sponsors attacked

Published by MAC on 2008-04-27

by Sydney Morning Herald

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton is among key Beijing Olympics sponsors criticised for failing to press China to help end fighting in Darfur.

The activist group Dream for Darfur is now threatening protests against BHP and other companies named in a new report card, many of which it says have exhibited "moral cowardice" on the issue.

With actress Mia Farrow as its spokeswoman, Dream for Darfur is the most prominent activist group lobbying companies to put pressure on Beijing, a major investor in Sudan.

"The majority of the 2008 Olympic corporate sponsors in this report have distinguished themselves for moral cowardice in the hopes of safe profitability," the report says.

Farrow said: "This is our second report card grading the companies' responsibility on humanity and on the ability to think outside the box on profitability, and to open minds to social responsibility.

"Because sponsors are desperate to win the hearts and minds of 1.3 billion potential consumers in China, they have been frozen into silence on Darfur," she said.

"If the summer Games (in Beijing) go down in history as the 'Genocide Olympics,' it will be because of the Chinese government's support of the regime in Sudan, abetted by the moral cowardice of the sponsors who would not speak out publicly about the genocide in Darfur."

The 19 companies graded by Dream for Darfur include top sponsors of the Beijing Olympics and the International Olympic Committee and key suppliers to the summer Games.

BHP has for a second time been graded with an "F", which Dream for Darfur says shows it has made little or no effort to respond to the group's campaign, or take any position on China's policy in Darfur.

BHP, which has its headquarters in Australia and is the world's largest diversified resources company, has yet to respond to the report. Dream for Darfur says it plans to protest at the companies' headquarters and will urge viewers to turn off commercials during the Games in August.

The first demonstrations are planned this weekend against Coca-Cola in Atlanta and New York on Sunday.

Coca-Cola said the report focused only on a willingness to lobby Beijing, but ignored the company's charitable work in Sudan, including a $US5 million ($A5.3 million) donation to water projects.

"We view this as a more direct - and more effective - route than Dream for Darfur's public posturing," the statement said.

China, in addition to other sizable investments, buys most of Sudan's oil exports.

Activists want Beijing to pressure Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow UN peacekeepers into his country's western Darfur region. The United Nations estimates more than 200,000 people have been killed and about 2.5 million displaced in the conflict.

Arab militias aligned with Khartoum have been accused of violence against civilians as well as soldiers in quelling the rebellion.

The Darfur campaign has been overshadowed by protests in Tibet against Chinese rule and a security crackdown there that has drawn attention to Beijing's human rights record.

Darfur is an awkward issue for sponsors that have paid tens of millions of US dollars to associate themselves with the Beijing Games in hopes of boosting their profile, and sales, in China.

Companies have expressed concern about Darfur and emphasised their charitable donations in the region. Some say they have talked privately to Chinese officials. But they say they should avoid politics, a stance echoed by the communist government.

Beijing has retaliated in the past to pressure by cancelling contracts or restricting market access.

2008 AAP

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