Coca-Cola has indicated it will not be taking a stance against Russia’s anti-gay laws at the Sochi Winter Olympics where it is a headline sponsor.
The soft drinks firm has also backed the International Olympic Committee’s response to Russian human rights abuses.
This is despite the IOC being slammed for failing gay Russians on this issue and even having its own rules which could see athletes and competitors punished for actively or visibly supporting LGBTI rights.
Gay rights campaigners are now planning to de-rail Coca-Cola’s marketing plan at the Olympics if they don’t change their mind, with a major publicity counter-offensive.
Digital activism group All Out has been demanding Coca-Cola should speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws, using their Olympics sponsorship as a platform.
But in a letter to US organization Human Rights Watch, Coca-Cola’s global workplace rights director, Edward Potter, disappoints them.
He writes: ‘In the spirit of the Olympic Charter we believe the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken seriously the human rights concerns you have raised and followed up on them with a strong sense of urgency.
‘As part of our long-term partnership with the IOC, we continually engage with them on various issues, including those that you have raised, that relate specifically to the Olympic Games. We plan to continue these discussions.’
Potter also refers to their past record on workplace rights, saying: ‘I hope that I have conveyed the company’s commitment to human and workplace rights, diversity, inclusiveness and dignity for all.’
But LGBTI activists at All Out said: ‘Coca-Cola’s statement completely ignored people facing discrimination and abuse in Russia.
‘Instead, they tried to rely on their history of supporting equality in countries like the US.
‘That’s not enough – you can’t support lesbian, gay, bi and trans people when it’s convenient and stay silent when they need you the most.’
All Out says it now wants volunteers to help it create a campaign to steal the limelight from Coca-Cola at the Olympics and make their positive marketing campaign there back-fire.
Marie Campbell, All Out’s director of global campaigns, told GSN: ‘We are not looking for a boycott.
‘We want fun and cheeky ideas which potentially could be quite damaging for their brand.
‘They are spending a huge amount of money on the Olympics and if we can turn that around it may make them rethink.’
A demonstration in New York’s Times Square by other activists has already seen people dumping Coke in the street and crushing cans. And All Out has sent lorries to circle the firm's headquarters in Atlanta in the US, demanding action on gay rights.
Meanwhile leading Russian opposition figure and former chess champion Garry Kasparov has suggested one easy way for Coca-Cola to help.
He said: ‘Let’s demand Coke to put rainbow flag on every can they sell there.’ –
Gay Star News has invited Coca-Cola to contribute to this article and is awaiting a response.
UPDATE: Coca-Cola has now responded. While they didn't answer our questions, they did refer us to a previous statement, from 28 August. This states in part:
'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 intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world.
'As an Olympic sponsor since 1928, we believe the Olympic Games are a force for good that unite people through a common interest in sports, and we have seen firsthand the positive impact and long-lasting legacy they leave on every community that has been a host.
'We support the core values of the Olympic Movement – excellence, friendship and respect – and are proud to continue our role in helping to make the Olympics a memorable experience for athletes, fans and communities all around the world. 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.'