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Senator blasts Coca-Cola CEO’s refusal to condemn genocide: ‘Disgraceful bootlicking’ of China

Coca Cola, Paul Lalli
During a hearing with the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Paul Lalli, the global vice president for human rights for Coca-Cola, declined to condemn China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims on July 27, 2021. |

Sen. Tom Cotton rebuked Coca-Cola's CEO for human rights Wednesday for refusing to acknowledge China's genocide of Uyghur Muslims and other religious minorities, calling it a "disgraceful bootlicking of the Chinese Communist Party."

During Tuesday's bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Republican members of Congress confronted Paul Lalli, the global vice president for human rights for Coca-Cola, one of the world’s largest soft drink manufacturers, accusing the company of hypocrisy for complaining about the alleged injustices of the election security bill in Georgia while sponsoring next year’s Olympics in China.

Lalli was one of several representatives of major American corporations who testified before the bipartisan hearing on corporate sponsorship of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

Human rights advocates have called for a boycott of next year’s Olympics as a result of China’s human rights abuses, particularly their treatment of the Uyghur ethnic minorities.

During the hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told Lalli that when Georgia passed a law designed to preserve election integrity, which critics decried as a voter suppression effort by Republicans, Coca-Cola vowed that “we will continue to stand up for what is right in Georgia and across the United States.”

Cotton suggested that by sponsoring the Beijing Olympics, the soft drink company was telegraphing that “Coca-Cola will not stand up for what is right outside the United States.”

“We stand up for what is right across the world,” Lalli responded. “We apply the same human rights principles in the United States that we do across the world.” 

When asked by Cotton if the Chinese Communist Party was “committing genocide against the Uyghur people,” Lalli said, “We’re aware of the reports of the State Department on this issue,” adding, “They continue to inform our program as do reports from … civil society.”

Cotton contended that Lalli’s response was inadequate and expanded his criticism to other corporate leaders gathered at the hearing. He recalled that under questioning from his colleagues in both the House and Senate, “Every single one of you refused to say a single word that, by all appearances, will cost you one bit of market share inside of mainland China.” 

In an interview on "Fox News Primetime" with host Tammy Bruce, Cotton described Tuesday's hearing as "disgraceful" and "one of the most pathetic hearings" he's been a part of, given that none of the corporate CEOs would say anything negative about China's actions. He said Lalli was particularly egregious.

The senator specifically mentioned Lalli’s response to a question about whether Coca-Cola would call for the International Olympic Committee to “delay the Chinese Olympics.”

In his response to that question, Lalli said that his company “doesn’t have a say” in the matter.

“Can you tell me why Coca-Cola doesn’t have a say in whether it sponsors the genocide Olympics next year, but it does have a say in how the state of Georgia runs an election?”

Lalli disputed Cotton’s characterization of his remarks, saying, “What I stated was that we do not have a say in the selection of the host city nor on whether an Olympics … is postponed or relocated.”

Cotton acknowledged that Coca-Cola did not directly have a say on whether the Olympics was postponed or relocated before stressing that “You could just make a statement.”

Cotton added, “Your CEO could saddle up the same moral high horse that he got on when Georgia passed its election law and write a letter to the IOC and ask them to. Anybody can do that.”

“We are most engaged on policy issues here at home, but we are clear in our respect for human rights globally,” Lalli said.

Cotton inquired as to why the Coca-Cola CEO “will ... denounce a democratically-elected Legislature’s laws but he will not simply say that the IOC should consider rebidding its Olympics or that Coca-Cola should [reconsider] sponsoring the Genocide Olympics.”

As Lalli asserted that “our role as a sponsor is to support and follow the athletes,” Cotton remained unsatisfied with the executive’s responses up to that point.

“You are spending millions of dollars to sponsor the genocide Olympics, yet you will not opine on any matter about it, yet you will stick your nose in the Georgia Legislature’s election reform laws. Can you explain to me the contrast?”

When Lalli reiterated that the company's goal was to support Olympic athletes regardless of the location of the host city, Cotton hit back, saying, “I’ve heard your talking points and I’m tired of hearing them, Mr. Lalli.”

The senator again asked, “Why is it that Coca-Cola will opine on Georgia’s election laws but not on the genocide Olympics?”

“Georgia is our home. It’s where … many of our employees … live and work and we are most engaged on public policy issues here in the U.S.,” he replied.

Cotton implied that the answer to his question asking why Coca-Cola will weigh in on the Georgia election law but not on China’s human rights abuses was because “you’re afraid of the Chinese Communist Party, you’re afraid of what they will do to your company if you say a single word, like, for instance saying, that both the Biden and the Trump administration are correct when they say that China is committing a genocide against its own people.”

The junior senator from Arkansas was not the only lawmaker to press Coca-Cola and other major American corporations over their support for the 2022 Olympics. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., one of the most prominent religious freedom advocates in Congress, also asked Lalli if his company would “support moving the Olympics to another city and country.” 

Lalli offered Smith a similar answer to the responses he gave to Cotton, telling the congressman that “we don’t have … a position … on if they’re going to be moved or delayed.” He maintained that “we will follow these athletes wherever they compete.”

“So … if they go to Pyongyang in North Korea, that’s OK too?” Smith asked in a follow-up. “Your voice matters. Coca-Cola … is a giant, as is Visa, as are the others that are … participating in this hearing.” 

Smith predicted that if it became clear to the International Olympic Committee that “Coca-Cola thinks it’s wrong” to hold the 2022 Olympics in China, “that will be listened to.” He remarked that “We’re all waiting with bated breath for all of you to say ‘move the Olympics, the Beijing genocide Olympics need to be moved.’” 

Like Cotton, Smith concluded that the companies’ refusal to take such a stand results from “a concern in corporate America that if you do, they will deny you access” to their markets. Even as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics continue, the 2022 Beijing Games are just a little more than six months away. As currently scheduled, the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place in China’s largest city from Feb. 4-20, 2022.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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