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Howard's End: Look Out China, The Net Is Watching

Now that China has been awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, business ethics are under scrutiny with potential corporate sponsors being asked by Internet consumers whether they will negotiate with human rights in mind. The web is watching. Maree Howard writes.

Some in the global business community are going to commit to the Beijing Olympic Games and do so quickly. Companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nike, GM and NBC are said to be lining up for a piece of the action.

Some companies are already in China so it's unlikely they will encourage any high profile debate about the business risks involved in joining hands with the hands which grab, imprison and execute.

But they should be warned!

Global consumers are already organising web-sites which will track potential Olympic sponsors and watch whether they make ethical decisions in their sponsorship deals with Beijing.

Human rights is the major issue facing the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell said yesterday when speaking of China's successful bid for the Olympic Games, "I hope they know what they've got. Beijing will be under seven years of international supervision."

"I hope they will find that you can't continue with economic democracy without political democracy," he said

At a minimum, the questions which are most likely to be asked of the sponsoring corporates through websites are; will you negotiate with the Chinese government for the right to employ a Chinese person whom you see fit; will you ensure those people have free access to the Western media throughout the Games and; will you ensure they are protected from arbitrary detention both during and after the Games?

Another issue facing sponsoring corporates is the business risk they face if something like "Tiananmen - The Sequel" or other brutal suppression occurs within the next seven years. Or perhaps even regional armed conflicts involving China, India, Vietnam or Taiwan.

If any of these events occur would you regret your decision to sponsor the 2008 Games? That is a question which now faces corporate leaders should they decide to sign-up with shareholders funds to early sponsorship deals.

Would consumers hold your participation in the Beijing Games against your products? Coke, McDonald's, Nike, GM and NBC all face fierce competition in the marketplace so corporates interested in sponsorship would be wise to factor in a potential consumer backlash should any disastrous event unfold where their brand is involved.

The 1988 Olympics in Seoul spurred South Korea towards democracy. It is to be hoped that the 2008 Games will do the same for Beijing and China.

But China is a nation still locked in its social past. It is willingly pursuing economic reform with a great deal of economic liberalisation over the last 25 years. But democratic and human rights reform is light years away.

At the very least potential corporate sponsors had better take some backside covering advice and analysis on the ethics of corporate sponsorship with Beijing, prior to their decision to jump in boots and all.

The Internet consumer knows there is potentially $billions of profits to be made for an ethical company - the web is watching!


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