Saturday, August 11, 2012

Corporate 'sin-washing' and the London Olympics

Dave Zirin's article on corporate 'sin washing' at the London Olympics exposes the corporate criminality of the major corporate sponsors of the Olympics including Dow Chemicals, BP, McDonald's,  and Coca Cola.
Global corporations like Dow Chemical, Adidas, and McDonald's are paying upwards of $100 million USD to sponsor the 2012 London games and associate themselves with the Olympic brand -- but with their brands already well-established, what do corporations get in exchange for these expensive sponsorship deals?

According to Dave Zirin, sportswriter and columnist for The Nation, the payoff comes through "corporate sin-washing."

"More than any other enterprise, if a company associates themselves with an Olympics, it really creates a positive feeling in the mind of the consumer," he says.

But, "if you look at the main sponsors that the International Olympic Committee has brought on board, you see companies like Dow Chemicals, British Petroleum, McDonald's, Adidas." 

These companies, Zirin tells the Center for Media and Democracy, are some of "the worst corporate criminals" most in the need of an Olympic absolution.
Zirin uses the example of Australian Aboriginal boxer Daniel Hooper to highlight the hypocrisy of the London organizers stance on corporate sponsorship
Zirin's favorite example of odd, corporate-friendly Olympic rules involves Australian boxer Daniel Hooper, who wore a T-shirt with an Australian Aboriginal flag in a recent boxing match to showcase his Aboriginal roots. Hooper could face disciplinary action for making a "political statement" by wearing the shirt, which contains a flag not recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The flag is, however, recognized by the Australian government as an official flag of Australia.

"What's particularly perverse about this is that if Damien Hooper had chosen a shirt that said 'I love British Petroleum' or 'Dow Chemicals is A-OK with me', he would have been allowed to compete." Zirin observes "it's amazing to me that wearing a shirt that says 'Dow Chemicals' is not seen as a political statement, while wearing a recognized flag of your own country is a political statement, because the IOC chooses not to recognize that flag."
 Phil England makes similar points in this piece in Ceasfire where he highlights that the Olympics organisers breached their own guidelines on ethical contracting and ignored concerns and complaints from civil society groups about the corporate sponsors.
The apparent unwillingness to apply any of the Olympics’ supposed ethical principles to the selection of corporate sponsors, brushing aside numerous civil society complaints and campaigns, is certainly one thing that the games can claim to be consistent about.

Why is the London Olympic organising committee (LOCOG) breaching its own Sustainable Sourcing Code? and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) breaching its own Code of Ethics? The former promises to “place a high priority on environmental, social and ethical issues when procuring products and services for the games”, while the latter states that the support of sponsors “must be in a form consistent with the rules of sport and the principles defined in the Olympic Charter” which defines Olympism as “seeking to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles”.

These are serious questions for the respective committees as well as for the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL) and its standards and ethics expert David Jackman. Because, as with other forms of cultural sponsorship, these company donations aren’t magnanimous acts of philanthropy, but calculated acts of public relations. At their recent AGM, the BP board outlined how they had made a business case internally for their sponsorship of the Olympics, the costed returns for which included building and protecting their brand. Inside the industry this is understood as maintaining the “social license to operate”.

In a very real sense then, the Olympics are colluding in the public relations campaigns of corporations who are engaged in large-scale environmental and human rights abuses, many of which are the subject of legal actions. The IOC and LOCOG are therefore complicit in normalising and cleansing the image of some of our most heinous corporate criminals and CSL is failing to properly address this.

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