A coalition of US investors managing hundreds of billions of dollars in assets has urged corporate sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics to speak out against controversial Russian laws on homosexuality.
“Taking a stand against these prejudicial laws and policies is not just the right thing to do, it protects shareholder interests and corporate reputations,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the state’s $160 billion retirement fund, wrote in a letter last week to ten major corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games which start on 7th February 2014.
The letters were sent to AtoS, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Omega (Swatch), McDonalds, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Visa.
The letters urge the sponsors to use their influence to “ensure the human rights of Russian citizens, as well as athletes and visitors to the Olympics.”
DiNapoli was joined in the call by 20 other investments funds and other groups managing $327 billion in assets that are seeking to force action by the Games’ sponsors.
The investors joined gay rights activists in the West who have been stepping up pressure on the sponsors over a Russian law enacted in June that bans the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.
The law’s proponents argue that it is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences and does not prevent adults from making their own choices, but critics allege that the move restricts freedom of speech and is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.
The main sponsors of the Sochi Games have been largely silent about the controversial legislation. Coca-Cola told RIA Novosti earlier this year that it “does not take positions on political matters unrelated to our business.”
DiNapoli has in the past used the state Common Retirement Fund’s leverage to press for changes in corporate policy — ranging from divestment from companies that do business with dictatorships to pressing Chevron to do right by plaintiffs in a massive environmental lawsuit in Ecuador. In each case, the Comptroller has argued that doing so is about protecting shareholder value, not promoting a progressive agenda.
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