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Coca-Cola Defends Sponsorship of 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Touts LGBT Support

Coke Olympic Sponsor

As one of the biggest corporate sponsors of the International Olympic Committee and the extremely controversial Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Coca-Cola has been experiencing some bad press as of late with the LGBT community. Earlier today, members of the group Queer Nation, joined by members of other LGBT advocacy organizations, protested Coke in Times Square by dumping the cola down city drains. As a response to the recent controversy, Coke issued a response on its official website, saying:

"As one of the world’s most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity.  We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion and diversity through both our policies and practices. We do not condone human rights abuses, intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world."

The company defends its sponsorship of the IOC and Olympic Games, saying that it has seen the games act as a tool to spread good and the Olympics' core values, "excellence, friendship and respect," across the globe. They also list their own credentials in terms of LGBT inclusiveness, which are as follows:

  • "We have a long-standing HR policy protecting our employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression."
  • "We have a Global Mutual Respect Policy that sets out our expectations for how employees should treat one another as well as anyone they interact with as a representative of the Company.  The policy outlines our commitment to valuing diversity and inclusion and providing a workplace free of discrimination or  harassment. You can read more about this at:  http://www.coca-colacompany.com/our-company/global-mutual-respect-policy"
  • "We have scored 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index every year since it was launched in 2006."
  • "We have had an LGBT Business Resource Group at the Company for 13 years that is funded and supported through the Chief Diversity Officer’s department."
  • "We were one of the first companies in the U.S. to publicly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect employees from discrimination due to sexual orientation."
  • "We have provided financial support and significant Company presence to several LGBT events over the past several years, including numerous Pride festivals and parades across the country."
  • "Our Global Supplier Diversity team participates in outreach events such as the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Awards Dinner, the NGLCC Business and Leadership Conference, and the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Corporate Sponsors Reception."

Coke protestBefore you dismiss the company's statement as simply a re-hashing of the same statement made to Buzzfeed earlier, know that this new declaration includes two key sentences:

"We are engaging with the International Olympic Committee on this important matter. We believe a more positive impact can be made through continued involvement, rather than by sitting on the sidelines."

This marks the first indication by Coke that it has any intention of holding the IOC responsible for defending LGBT and human rights in Russia. Previously, GE was the only Olympics sponsor to express a similar sentiment. One could still argue that Coke's vague wording does not technically commit them to any concrete action. Nevertheless, it still represents a change (a small one, but a change) on the part of the beverage conglomerate.

Presently, none of the organizations protesting Coke have issued a response to the company's statement. Given that said groups provided Coke with a list of demands that still currently remain unmet, though, it is not likely that their stance will change very much or at all. 

(photo by scott wooledge)

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  1. Queer Nation released a statement immediately following the statement issued by The Coca-Cola Company in response to the #DumpCoke protest in Times Square.

    Queer Nation's statement may be found on our website http://tmblr.co/ZgWivqtXTMlZ and follows here:

    Coca-Cola made a horrendous error when it sponsored the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany. This company knows better and it must not sponsor any Olympic Games in Russia as long as Russia’s anti-gay laws remain in force.

    We also commend Coca-Cola for its Global Mutual Respect guidelines. Unfortunately, they are just that — guidelines. They are not binding. The guidelines close as follows:

    “The Company reserves the right to amend this policy at any time. Nothing in this policy says or implies that a contract exists between the Company and its employees or that participation in this program is a guarantee of continued employment with The Coca-Cola Company.”

    Coca-Cola’s U.S. non-discrimination policies and benefits packages are binding, and they are to be praised. That is why we demanded that Coca-Cola implement those policies worldwide.

    The LGBT community has won respect on its own since the 1969 Stonewall Riots. What we demand is equality before the law in every nation around the world. Coca-Cola cannot provide that, but it can and must extend its non-discrimination policies and benefits packages to all of its employees around the world.

    And so we reiterate our demands.

    Coca-Cola must:

    - Withdraw its sponsorship of the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.

    - Release a statement in English and Russian that condemns workplace discrimination, harassment, and bullying directed at customers and employees based on gender identity and sexual orientation

    - Publish and publicize its LGBT employment policies on its Russian website in Russian and on physical bulletin boards and websites at all Coca-Cola owned and operated facilities.

    - Conduct periodic company-wide sensitivity trainings about its LGBT employment policies worldwide.

    - Institute a long-range policy to widely distribute its LGBT employment policies in human resources documentation and internal communications at all owned and operated facilities worldwide.

    - Require that all Coca-Cola bottlers, distributors and vendors implement LGBT employment policies as a condition of their contract with The Coca-Cola Company.

    Posted by: Queer Nation | Aug 28, 2013 10:03:51 PM


  2. Translation: "We saw your little "demonstration and had quite a laugh, so we had an intern type up a generic response on our way out the office. We hear your complaints but we're to busy making #$%@loads of cash off the 2014 olympics. Oh, and buy more coke to dump in the streets hurr hurr hurr."

    Posted by: E.nigma | Aug 28, 2013 10:04:50 PM


  3. La Lotta Continua! Up the Stakes. Boycott Coke and DEMONSTRATE. Clearly, our government and the IOC aren't going to move the Games...which is what they SHOULD do. Leaving us to raise the bar and boycott the sponsors, urging withdrawal of those sponsorships.

    It chaps my hide to read these statements about "our policies" on Equality for LGBT employees, as though having those domestic policies have ANY effect on the brutality in other countries.

    PULL OUT.

    Posted by: Kile Ozier | Aug 28, 2013 10:10:50 PM


  4. What is happening in Russia is sickening and I would like to see companies like Coke pull their support but at the same time International politics and economics are rarely as black and white as we would like them to be. Coke, and others, could actually do some good if they are outspoken about equality in their sponsorship while the games are on-going. Something that the government in Russia would find very difficult to combat on a world stage. I have seen many people and companies that have been allies of the LGBT community attacked for not reacting the way we want. We have not won the war for equality here in the U.S yet. As we continue to fight here, and around the world to demand our rights, I wonder if we should take time to consider multiple ways of approaching the problems we face that don't simply ostracize our allies but help them find creative, productive ways to improve our position. I am not saying I have all the answers just thinking that there are often ways of winning a war without simply putting your "soldiers" up as targets. A lot will be told by how these companies and our government react to Russia's response to acts of civil disobedience that are sure to occur by both athletes and visitors.

    Posted by: Brad S | Aug 28, 2013 10:42:27 PM


  5. Do you think Coke and Vodka go together?

    Posted by: barney | Aug 28, 2013 10:52:15 PM


  6. It's not actually interns writing this stuff, but the top high paid PR people. They are paid to get how big a deal this is and they get it and are running as fast as they can to deal with it. And they are not on their own but meeting with top management daily.

    If by the time the Olympics happen Coke messages equal discrimination and bigotry in the minds of the consumers, they are in trouble and their investment is a big negative. They get this. If the movement continues, either they will drop out or more likely run commercials with lots of gay couples kissing and frolicing with their kids and picking Coke off the shelves or whatever. Rainbow flags, or in the more sly and subtle way of the French McDonald's commercial.

    Posted by: emjayay | Aug 28, 2013 10:54:50 PM


  7. What is important and what will work is continuing agitation and pressure about the issue from any angle. That the Russians are coming up with an official or athlete making news with another anti-gay statement on a daily basis is only great for the movement.

    Posted by: emjayay | Aug 28, 2013 10:57:09 PM


  8. @BRAD S: Finally, someone here thinks like an adult instead of immediately screaming "BOYCOTT!!! BOYCOTT!!! GRAB CAMERAS & DUMP LIQUIDS IN STREET!!!! FREEDOM!!!". The gay rights movement would be so much further along if more people like you were leading the charge and working towards real change, than these modern day media whores more worried about their press releases and looking good on camera.

    Posted by: E.nigma | Aug 28, 2013 11:00:27 PM


  9. It would be awesome if Coke actually flexed their muscle and aired a commercial featuring a gay couple during the games or something, but I just really don't see them doing anything to really show their support and make Russia look bad.

    Posted by: JMC | Aug 28, 2013 11:23:24 PM


  10. Like, I'd love to see Coke assemble a group of Gay Olympians past and present to be part of one of their commercial campaigns during the games. I think it'd be a not-so-subtle-subtle way to make a statement without actually being political or doing anything that could get the commercial pulled from anywhere.

    Posted by: JMC | Aug 28, 2013 11:27:20 PM


  11. @JMC: It's not even about making Russia look bad, it's about Making Coke look bad. Coke is a business first with it' priorities on it's shareholders before it's customers interests.

    Do you remember how people flipped the #$%@ out when Cheerios aired a commercial of a black and white couple with a biracial daughter? Imagine the reaction in America if Coke aired a gay couple during primetime.

    They're not going to do anything that upsets their profits or their shareholders profits.

    Posted by: E.nigma | Aug 28, 2013 11:40:04 PM


  12. No one actually flipped out over that Cheerios commercial though, some hack reporter lurked YouTube and Twitter for a handful of dumb comments and then a bunch of other media outlets picked up that article and ran with it. People were even saying it got pulled from the air when it never was lol

    Posted by: JMC | Aug 29, 2013 12:07:03 AM


  13. I like this picture more than that picture messy coke cans/bottles. Yay, I support activists for human justice.

    Posted by: AndyTowlette | Aug 29, 2013 12:10:30 AM


  14. It's interesting watching us demand things of sponsors and athletes.

    I have to say this: sometimes we gays can be extremely selfish and judgemental of others. We can be superficial and demanding. We're skin-deep. I hope we can all look in the mirror and become better people through all of this. This can't be just a one-way street where we scream "I WANT THIS! I WANT COKE TO DO THAT! I WANT THIS ATHLETE TO SAY PRO-GAY THINGS AND SPEAK AGAINST THE LAWS!"

    What are we planning to do in return? Let's make a list. (I'm not kidding) Right now it's: me, me me. Gimme, gimme. Keeping the focus on gay Russian kids is a good start. Dropping our bitchy catty attitudes (for no other reason than being bitchy and catty) is another. What is the common good?

    Posted by: will | Aug 29, 2013 12:35:33 AM


  15. Wow, interesting to watch some on here comment that the gay community are "selfish and idiots" for wanting to help Russian LGBT. Whose agenda are you pushing exactly. Your words seem to echo the russian propaganda we've been hearing. Maybe that's why so many disregard it.
    What are your suggestions for helping the situation?
    So far all the critics have said is "STFU".
    Until someone suggests a reasonable alterntive, this is the best course of action.

    Posted by: mk ultra | Aug 29, 2013 12:51:50 AM


  16. @WILL

    You do realize we actually want NOTHING? We want no abuse and repression from governments. We want no bullying, mockery and aggression from fellow civilians. We want no restriction of our basic human and civil rights?

    In short, Will...get some education please.

    Posted by: Felix | Aug 29, 2013 12:52:52 AM


  17. lol yeah it's super selfish and catty to expect people to simply do what's right and value human life over money, if those gays in Russia weren't such selfish catty scumbags they'd be offering *incentives* to their oppressors and complacent bystanders to protect their freedom!

    seriously will? you're a joke and your moral compass is completely f*cked. go throw a parade for Macklemore or something

    Posted by: JMC | Aug 29, 2013 12:54:10 AM


  18. this late in the game what would it mean for coke to "pull their sponsorship? probably they have already cut more than a few checks and not just for air time. but russia needs to be a bigger player in the the world economy, and they need money to keep theirs going, so pressure from the bigger players actually hurt. while their laws might violate the mores and values of an increasingly bigger part of the world, one thing even russia can't do well is to break the laws of basic economics. they can't make all their money from weapons sales to the third world. the soviet union fell because planned economies don't work. putin might get kicked in the ass after

    Posted by: m | Aug 29, 2013 12:55:20 AM


  19. Coke has no conscience if it thinks it can hold two contradictory positions on this.

    Posted by: Adamn | Aug 29, 2013 1:02:37 AM


  20. in other words russia can't do to well if they isolate themselves from the rest of the world. it didn't work very well before during communism and the world markets are fickle and might see them as too risky to deal with. coke and the others should ramp up and so should the other sponsors. a free an open russia is a bigger potential market for foreign businesses so its in their self interest to not offend the rest of the world.

    Posted by: m | Aug 29, 2013 1:03:55 AM


  21. when russia cruches the numbers they might discover that punishing and demonizing the lgbt community is more costly than its worth. so they back off not because of an inspired sense of morality and decency but because hate just might make them broke. who the f*ck cares why the do it as long as they do.

    Posted by: m | Aug 29, 2013 1:23:22 AM


  22. "We are engaging with the International Olympic Committee on this important matter. We believe a more positive impact can be made through continued involvement, rather than by sitting on the sidelines."

    Translation: We paid a helluva lot of money in bribes to the USOC, the IOC and the Russians. If you think we're walking away from that "investment", you're nuts!

    Posted by: PDQ | Aug 29, 2013 1:25:49 AM


  23. @pdq

    good point. but russia isn't cokes main market. the protest make coke nervous. if sales in the us drop tied to olympic sponsorship they would be fools to sit tight. they already sunk the money. its gone. future sales the sponsorship buys is worth more. if projected future sales dive they would be smart to pressure russia now and bail because of the good will created by taking a stand. again cokes self interest is served better by doing the right thing (ie. supporting the rights of the russian lgbt community) because their main customers want them to do that.

    Posted by: m | Aug 29, 2013 1:35:13 AM


  24. Playing both ends = $$$$$$$

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4N3Ijvqfr4

    Posted by: CB | Aug 29, 2013 2:23:43 AM


  25. Please-please someone suggest a good alternative to Diet Coke that's not Diet Pepsi. I'm serious. I'm ready to boycott and just want to know good alternatives!!

    Posted by: Eric | Aug 29, 2013 2:24:34 AM


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