The collective ethical backflip has been quite impressive: from the high ethical bar of human rights into the pits of crass, unprincipled commercialism.
By far the top team performance in this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing has been corporate America’s breathtaking double-twist collective ethical backflip.
This is a group of leading brand names that have so loudly been touting their code of ethics, pledging to stand against repressive regimes that abuse human rights. But here came the Olympic games in China, posing their first test, and it was not really a tough one. They were not asked to do anything, but merely to NOT do something — specifically, don’t provide ethical legitimacy to the brutally repressive Chinese regime by sponsoring their propagandistic use of the Olympics.
Human rights advocates worldwide had called on global corporate giants to use their economic leverage to send a powerful message of disapproval to the Chinese dictatorship that is routinely committing acts of genocide and political suppression against Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong citizens and any other dissidents under their rule. Corporate leaders would not have to march, picket or otherwise muss up their high-dollar suits — just don’t pay millions of shareholders’ dollars to link arms and reputations with rank repression.
Well, if you’ve watched any of the Olympic broadcasts, you’ve witnessed the corporate choice: a collective ethical backflip from the high ethical bar of human rights into the pits of crass, unprincipled commercialism. Look, there’s the flag of Coca-Cola, and Visa, and Pizza Hut, AirBnb, Intel, Procter & Gamble… and a who’s who of America’s corporate all-stars. They’ve paid more than a billion dollars to be proud sponsors of the regime’s Olympic show, choosing access to China’s leaders and markets over soft goals like ethics.
Well, sniffed one sponsor, raising testy political issues “would not advance the cause of sport in which our commitment lies.” Really, how sporting is genocide? Another barked that “nobody, nobody cares what happens to Uyghurs, OK?” No, it’s not OK, and also not true. And yet another clueless corporate boss cavalierly dismissed ethics by declaring, “Ski and sport have no business in politics… It’s common sense.”
No, it’s cowardice, stupidity and un-Olympian.
Corporate America’s CEOs are mostly well-heeled money people who would hardly be considered athletic. Yet, every now and then a few of these soft elites bust out as championship players of an old game called Duck & Dodge.
It’s a sport of political finesse played when social conditions reach a boiling point, threatening problems for the corporate order. In those moments, a few leading executives suddenly come out as social activists to side with the aggrieved. Ducking and dodging their own responsibility for grievances, these players claim that they will fix the system. When public attention drifts, however, so do the fixers, returning to business as usual.
You might recall, for example, the huffing and puffing leaders a year ago when our very democracy was under siege, not only by seditious right-wing extremist groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol, but also by a clique of pusillanimous, right-wing Congress critters who joined the coup attempt to overthrow the people’s democratic vote. “Outrageous!” shouted some 700 corporate powerhouses in unison, pledging that they would save our democracy. How? By cutting off the huge campaign donations they’d been giving to those 147 Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the election.
Let’s pause here for a hypocrisy check: Aren’t these born-again democracy champions the very same corporations that’ve been using their unlimited special-interest cash to purchase lawmakers wholesale and steal the people’s political power? Yes… yet they now want us to believe they’re our saviors.
But they’ve quickly reverted to their true selves. Within weeks of so sternly chastising members of Congress’ “sedition caucus,” the corporate donor class — shhhhh — quietly returned to lavishing bribery bucks on them. AT&T, Boeing, Citigroup, GM, Pfizer and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among the corporate phonies that slipped $2.4 million in donations last year to members of Congress they had publicly condemned as un-American. It’d make more sense to trust a coyote to guard your last lamb chop than to think that corporations value anything but their own profit.
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