DECEMBER 5, 2013: New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced today that the $160.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, leading a coalition of investors with $327 billion of assets under management, has sent letters to ten major corporate sponsors of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia urging the sponsors to use their influence to ensure the human rights of Russian citizens, as well as athletes and visitors to the Olympics.
The investors, including New York City Comptroller John C. Liu and a coalition of 19 investment firms, acted in response to Russia’s recently enacted laws restricting the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens to free speech and freedom to assemble.
“The Russian government’s discriminatory laws have cast a shadow over the Olympics,” DiNapoli said. “We call upon these corporate sponsors to stand up for the respect and equality enshrined in the Olympic movement, advocate for human rights and confront abuses. Taking a stand against these prejudicial laws and policies is not just the right thing to do, it protects shareholder interests and corporate reputations.”
The letters, sent this week to AtoS, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Omega (Swatch), McDonalds, Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung and Visa, cite the reputational risk to the Olympic sponsors if they fail to send a strong message that recently enacted laws that target 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 investors note that if these companies fail to speak out against these restrictive and intolerant laws, they threaten not only the return on their Olympic sponsorship dollars but also the value associated with the companies’ brands and reputations.
“Corporate sponsors of the Sochi Olympics have an opportunity to build their brands and their value, but they also have a responsibility to uphold the Olympics’ inclusive spirit,” said New York City Comptroller John C. Liu. “The onus is on these global corporations to use their influence, while the whole world is watching, to confront Russia’s hateful laws that target the LGBT community. If they fail to step up and speak out in support of equal rights for all, they risk damaging their reputations and their value to investors.”
“As sponsorship and broadcast revenues finance 92 percent of the costs of the Olympic games, there can be little doubt that corporate sponsors have influence over the International Olympic Committee and host countries. There is simply no justification for silence and inaction,” said Shelley Alpern, director of Social Research and Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield Management.
The investors 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, As You Sow Foundation, The Tides Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Sustainability Group at Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge, Northstar Asset Management and Calvert Group.
“Comptroller DiNapoli, Comptroller Liu and these institutional investors deserve praise for this strong action against hate and intolerance,” said Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell (D, Manhattan). “The state pension fund is leading the way by using its investment clout to tell the corporate sponsors of the Olympics that their brands and reputations are on the line if they do not speak out against Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. We must continue to raise awareness of how these laws will continue to affect investors, LGBT residents of Russia and visitors and participants in the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.”
“I commend Comptroller DiNapoli for his leadership in this important effort to pressure the Russian Federation to repeal its intolerable and unjust anti-LGBT laws,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman (D, Manhattan). “Comptroller DiNapoli, Comptroller Liu and the nineteen institutional investors joining them, are sending a strong message to major Olympic sponsors that they must take action against Russia’s discriminatory laws targeting the LGBT community. Anything less would be an abdication of their corporate social responsibility and threatens to severely damage the Olympic sponsors’ standing among consumers and shareholders.”
For more information, contact: Eric Sumberg, 212-681-4840, firstname.lastname@example.org
This release was originally published by the Office of the New York State Comptroller which is solely responsible for its content.