In a Tuesday hearing before the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Coca-Cola’s global vice-president for human rights refused to condemn China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims, making profits the clear priority for the global corporation.
Paul Lalli, the VP for human rights at Coca-Cola performed abysmally when questioned by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) who aimed to hold Coca-Cola accountable for its brand of fair-weather morality.
Cotton said Lalli’s testimony, coupled with the statement released by Coca-Cola saying it would defend human rights in Georgia and the United States in the wake of the battle over election law, made him question whether or not that meant the company concerns itself solely with domestic human rights issues.
“No Senator, we stand up for what is right across the world. We apply the same human rights principles in the United States that we do across the world,” Lalli responded.
Coca-Cola: We stand up for what is right across the world.
Also Coca-Cola: We will not condemn the Chinese Communist Party for committing genocide, and we will support the Winter Olympics in Beijing. pic.twitter.com/9C56MJJYe8
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) July 27, 2021
At one point, when asked why Coca-Cola was keeping blanket silence, Cotton foresaw what he believes is the ugly truth about the situation:
“I think the answer is you’re afraid of the Chinese Communist Party. You’re afraid of what they will do to your company if you say a single word like, for instance, saying that both the Biden and the Trump administration are correct when they say that China is committing a genocide against its own people.”
When asked about the undisputed fact that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, Lalli dodged the question.
“We’re aware of the reports of the State Department on this issue as well as other departments of the U.S. government. We respect those reports. They continue to inform our program as do reports from other civil society,” Lalli said.
“You were asked if Coca-Cola would call for the IOC to delay the Chinese Olympics, give a chance for them to be re-bid or China to stop its’ genocide against its own people and you said that Coca-Cola ‘doesn’t have a say’. Can you tell me why Coca-Cola doesn’t have a say in whether it sponsors the genocide Olympics next year but it does have a say in how the state of Georgia runs an election loss,” Cotton pressed the Coca-Cola magnate.
“What I stated was that we do not have a say in the selection of the host city, nor on whether an Olympics is postponed or relocated,” Lalli said, again dodging the question and the company’s accountability in sponsoring an Olympics in a country that targets, tortures and eradicates its own people based on their religion.
“The CEO can saddle the same moral high horse that he got on when Georgia passed its election law and write a letter to the [International Olympic Committee] and ask them to. Anybody can do that. If he’s an American citizen, that’s his right under our Constitution,” Cotton rebutted, clearly unsatisfied with Coca-Cola’s selective high ground.
Lalli reiterated that Coca-Cola remains focused on U.S. policy but is “clear in our respect for human rights globally.”
But Coca-Cola’s “clear respect for human rights globally” is not so clear, and the American people can see precisely why the company is selective about the issues they support. The beverage giant can’t be bothered to care about genocide in China when its success is dependent on sales in the country.
Cotton leaned in, demanding to know what the difference was between Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the “Genocide Olympics” and their condemnation of election law.
“Our role as a sponsor is to support and follow the athletes,” replied Lalli responded.
An irate Cotton accused the company of “spending millions of dollars to sponsor the Genocide Olympics” but refusing to “opine on any matter about it yet. It will stick [its] nose in the Georgia legislature’s election reform laws,” he added, before asking, “Can you explain to me the contrast?”
The human rights VP continued to toe the same line, saying Coca-Cola does “not make decisions” regarding the location of the Olympics, but does try to support the athletes.
Cotton swiftly interrupted, “I’ve heard your talking points and I’m tired of hearing them.”
Lalli closed by saying that Georgia is Coca-Cola’s “home. It’s where many of our employees live and work and [we] are most engaged on public policy issues here in the U.S.” – causing Cotton to interrupt and say, “I think the answer is you’re afraid of the Chinese Communist Party. You’re afraid of what they will do to your company if you say a single word like, for instance, saying that both the Biden and the Trump administration are correct when they say that China is committing a genocide against its own people.”
In November, the beverage giant lobbied to push back the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act which would prohibit product imports manufactured in China using forced labor. The bill eventually passed with bipartisan support, but Coca-Cola made it clear where they really stand on human rights issues, and the truth is dark.
The corporation’s prioritization of profits trumps human decency and doing the right thing. Shame on you, Coca-Cola.
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