Coca-Cola, Which Opposed Georgia's Voter Law, Dodged Questions on Chinese Repression

Republican lawmakers blasted Coca-Cola for not demanding that the 2022 Winter Olympics be moved from China over alleged human rights violations on Tuesday, months after the company condemned Georgia's restrictive voting law.

Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said that Coca-Cola and other U.S. companies were practicing a pernicious form of "business as usual" by dodging questions about ethical concerns related to their Beijing Winter Olympics sponsorships during a hearing of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

After being pressed by Smith, Coca-Cola's Global Head of Human Rights Paul Lalli said that the company did not "have a position" on moving or delaying the games and would "follow these athletes wherever they compete." The congressman responded by rhetorically asking Lalli if it would also be "okay" if the games were moved and held in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Representatives for Visa, Procter & Gamble, Intel and Airbnb also declined to give straight answers when asked about calls to move the games from Beijing, with most insisting that their companies had no position on the issue.

Smith told Lalli that all of the commission members were "waiting with bated breath for all of you to say, 'Move the Olympics, the Beijing Genocide Olympics need to be moved.'" He had highlighted alleged abuses by the Chinese Communist Party while blasting corporate inaction earlier during the virtual hearing.

"We not only see genocide and concentration camps directed against Uyghurs and Kazakhs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in particular, but also the ongoing eradication of the culture of Tibet, the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners, the destruction of Christian churches, and the dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong," Smith said.

"And yet, for many American corporations it is business as usual when it comes to China," he added.

Coca-Cola Congress China Georgia Voting Republicans Olympics
Representatives for Coca-Cola and other major companies faced intense questioning about their sponsorship of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics during a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Tuesday. This photo shows a Coca-Cola sign sitting atop the Olympia Building in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on July 27, 2019. Raymond Boyd/Getty

Coca-Cola, which is based in Atlanta, was one of several major companies to denounce the voting law that Republicans in Georgia's legislature passed in March. The bill that President Joe Biden called "Jim Crow in the 21st Century" imposes new restrictions on absentee ballots and drop boxes, new requirements for voter ID and gives the Republican-led legislature more control over administering elections.

Coca-Cola Company CEO James Quincey said that the company wanted to "be crystal clear and state unambiguously that we are disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia voting legislation" in a statement issued on April 1.

Quincey vowed that Coca-Cola would "continue to stand up for what is right in Georgia and across the U.S." and "engage with legislators, advocacy groups, business leaders and others to work towards ensuring broad access to voting is available to every eligible voter in our home state."

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, also a Republican member of the commission, referenced the statement during Tuesday's hearing, asking Lalli whether Coca-Cola's position on the Beijing Olympics meant that the company would "not stand up for what is right outside the United States."

Lalli maintained that Coca-Cola applies "the same human rights principles in the United States that we do across the world," but said the company was "most engaged on policy issues here at home."

Newsweek reached out to Coca-Cola for comment.