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Activists to protest some Olympic sponsors

An activist group will organize protests against Beijing Olympics sponsors that it says have failed to press China to help end fighting in Darfur.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An activist group will organize protests against Beijing Olympics sponsors that it says have failed to press China to help end fighting in Darfur.

Dream for Darfur said 16 companies, including General Electric Co., Coca-Cola Co. and Microsoft Corp., have exhibited “moral cowardice.”

( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, which is a GE company.)

With actress Mia Farrow as its spokeswoman, Dream for Darfur is the most prominent activist group lobbying companies to put pressure on Beijing, a major investor in Sudan.

“The majority of the 2008 Olympic corporate sponsors in this report have distinguished themselves for moral cowardice in the hopes of safe profitability,” the report said.

“This is our second report card grading the companies’ responsibility on humanity and on the ability to think outside box on profitability, and to open minds to social responsibility,” Farrow said during a phone conference Thursday.

Dream for Darfur said it also would protest at the companies’ headquarters and urge viewers to turn off commercials during the Games in August. The first demonstrations are planned over the weekend against Coca-Cola in Atlanta on Saturday and New York on Sunday, and Staples Inc. in Boston on Sunday.

Coca-Cola responded with a toughly worded statement, saying the report focused only on a willingness to lobby Beijing, but ignored the company’s charitable work in Sudan, including a $5 million donation to water projects.

“We view this as a more direct — and more effective — route than Dream for Darfur’s public posturing,” the statement said.

China, in addition to other sizable investments, buys most of Sudan’s oil exports.

Activists want Beijing to pressure Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow U.N. peacekeepers into his country’s western Darfur region. The United Nations estimates more than 200,000 people have been killed and about 2.5 million displaced in the conflict.

The Darfur campaign has been overshadowed by protests in Tibet against Chinese rule and a security crackdown there that has drawn attention to Beijing’s human rights record.

Darfur is an awkward issue for sponsors that have paid tens of millions to associate themselves with the Beijing Games in hopes of boosting their profile, and sales, in China.

Companies have expressed concern about Darfur and emphasized their charitable donations in the region. Some say they have talked privately to Chinese officials. But they say they should avoid politics, a stance echoed by the communist government.

Beijing has retaliated in the past to pressure by canceling contracts or restricting market access.

The 19 companies graded by Dream for Darfur include top sponsors of the Beijing Olympics and the International Olympic Committee and key suppliers to the Summer Games.

In a 100-page report, the group said Eastman Kodak Co., Adidas AG and McDonald’s Corp. have taken adequate action and would not be targeted.

Eastman Kodak and Adidas AG received a “B-plus” because they wrote to the United Nations about Darfur, the group said. It said McDonald’s got a “C-plus” for a private action.

GE and Coca-Cola received a “D,” though the group said they showed “significant concern” about the issue.

Deirdre Latour, spokeswoman for GE, said the company commends Dream for Darfur for raising awareness for the situation, but “disagrees with the organization’s approach and use of the Olympic Games as a political platform.”

“We also strongly disagree with the assertions made in the report card,” she said.

“GE is taking an active role in easing the suffering of refugees, including making humanitarian medical equipment available in the region,” Latour said. “The GE Foundation has made $4 million in humanitarian aid grants to CARE, UNICEF and International Medical Corps to aid with food, shelter and medical treatment for thousands of refugees in regional camps.”

Johnson & Johnson, Chinese computer maker Lenovo Corp., Microsoft, Samsung Electronics Co. and Visa Inc. received a “D-minus.”

Nine received an “F” for “poor response or none at all,” the group said. They include Staples, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., Australian mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., Volkswagen AG and UPS Inc.

A Volkswagen spokesman said the company did not “see it as our duty” to act on Dream for Darfur’s requests.

“We are supporting the Olympic idea and do not see it as a requirement to solve these political problems,” said VW spokesman Andreas Meurer.

The Associated Press made calls to McDonald’s, Lenovo, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson, but they were not immediately returned.

The group gave the IOC an “F” in a separate report last week that accused it of refusing to address the Darfur issue.