Olympic Sponsors Out of the Human Rights Hot Seat

Now a look into the world of public relations realpolitik: Olympic sponsors have used the massive earthquake in China to burnish their humanitarian image, writes AdAge, after ignoring advocacy groups’ pleas to challenge China on human rights violations in Tibet and Darfur for months.

“The opportunity to help out in a crucial humanitarian task during a time of true crisis changes that conversation, according to executives at several sponsors, by knocking the earlier stories out of the news and providing a platform for high-profile generosity.”

First, let’s be fair. The earthquake aid is commendable — McDonald’s is donating meals, Coca-Cola, money and bottled water — and there has long been the argument that even good “corporate citizens” shouldn’t have to challenge governments, especially when it jeopardizes their business in that country (that argument becomes largely academic when angry protesters harangue them along every step of the Olympic Torch Run, live on cable news, of course).

Regardless, here are the brutal realities: The tragic Sichuan earthquakes have overshadowed the tragedies in Tibet and Darfur (AdAge calls it “News Cycle Turnover”). The Olympic sponsors now have a timely humanitarian cause they can support without angering the Chinese. The upshot: The Olympic Sponsors are out of the hot seat. Tibet and Darfur groups will need a new way to gin up attention for their causes.

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