February 6, 2014: New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, as trustee of the $160.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, along with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and a coalition of 19 investors, released letters written to four major corporate sponsors of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia that failed to respond to an earlier request they use their influence to ensure the protection of the human rights of Russian citizens, as well as athletes and visitors to the Olympics.
The letters follow an initial outreach to ten companies in December regarding Russia’s recently enacted laws restricting the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens to free speech and freedom to assemble. Of the ten, six companies responded: McDonalds, Visa, General Electric, Dow Chemical, Coca-Cola and Omega (Swatch). Letters sent to Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung and AtoS were not answered.
“Corporate sponsors of the 2014 Sochi games have already been targeted with high-profile protests and calls to boycott their products and services,” DiNapoli said. “Because of the recently enacted discriminatory laws in Russia, Olympic sponsorship may end up tarnishing the sponsors’ brands and reputations and negatively impacting company value. As shareholders we cannot sit idly by and let that happen. Corporate sponsors should stand up for human rights and the respect and equality symbolized in the Olympic movement.”
“With the Olympics starting Thursday, the eyes of the world will be on Sochi and its corporate sponsors,” said Stringer, investment advisor to the nearly $150 billion New York City pension funds. “It is long past time these sponsors take a stand and condemn these discriminatory laws. We want our portfolio companies to protect their reputations and shareholder value. There’s no excuse for being silent on these issues.”
The letters cite the reputational risk to the Olympic sponsors if they fail to send a strong message that recently enacted laws that target the rights of LGBT people are not acceptable. The obligation for these companies to strive toward responsible and sustainable social policies and practices to protect shareholder value is at the heart of the recently promulgated United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The U.N. principles state that companies have an obligation to respect human rights and remedy abuses where they affect their business operations.
The 21 investors, with a combined $327 billion of assets under management, again urged the Olympic corporate sponsors to:
Ensure their nondiscrimination policies are strong, inclusive and enforced globally, especially in regard to employees stationed or on location in Russia;
Call on the leaders of the Russian Federation to rescind the laws that deprive members of Russia’s LGBT community of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and declare their commitment to equality irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity; and
Call on the International Olympic Committee to obtain firm and express commitments from the Russian government that ensure the safety and human rights of all athletes and attendees of the Winter Games and visitors to the Games’ venues.
Signatories to the letter include Clean Yield Asset Management, Zevin Asset Management, Arjuna Capital, Harrington Investments, Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, Christopher Reynolds Foundation, Newground Social Investment, Pax World, First Affirmative Financial Network, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Unitarian Universalist Association, Domini Social Investments, Trillium Asset Management Corporation, As You Sow Foundation, The Tides Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Sustainability Group at Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge, Northstar Asset Management and Calvert Group.
“Corporate sponsors have significant influence over the International Olympic Committee and host countries,” said Shelley Alpern, director of Social Research and Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield Management. “There is simply no justification for silence and inaction on the part of Olympic corporate sponsors on this important issue.”
Copies of the new letters can be found at: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/feb14/Sochi_Olympics_Letter.pdf
This press release was originally published by The Office of the New York State Comptroller, which is solely responsible for its content.