"The IOC didn't even try to get guarantees on human rights," said Sidney Jones, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. "If abuses take place as preparations for the Games proceed, it won't be just the Chinese authorities who will look bad - the IOC and the corporate sponsors will be complicit."
Jones said the challenges now are how to hold China to its pre-selection promises, how to prevent abuses linked directly to the Games, and how to use the Games to press for human rights improvements over the next seven years.
Chinese officials responsible for the Olympic bid promised during a press conference in Moscow on Thursday that journalists would be able to report on anything, anywhere in China, before and during the Games. "When the first journalist gets stopped, who's going to remind China of the pledge and insist that they honor it?" Jones asked.
Jones noted that corporations could play a useful role in a variety of ways. Computer, telecommunications, and media companies should work toward an end to controls on press and Internet content and for the promotion of full freedom of expression. Garment and footwear companies should press for fundamental labor rights. Construction and transportation companies and urban design firms should insist on due process and fair compensation for anyone evicted as Olympic sites are built. They should also ensure that the Chinese government imposes no restrictions on journalists visiting building and resettlement sites. Food and beverage companies should find ways to promote freedom of opinion in their advertising. Broadcast companies that get the media rights to cover the Games should avoid sugarcoating the restrictions on rights in China.
Among the major foreign sponsors are the U.S. giants General Motors and Xerox, Heineken NV from the Netherlands, Fuji Photo Film from Japan, and Australia's Telstra. Other current sponsors include Coca Cola, Schlumberger/Sema, John Hancock, Kodak, McDonald's, Panasonic, Samsung, TimeWarner, and Visa.
"We can't predict what China will look like in 2008, but we know for certain that the Games by themselves are not going to make China less repressive," said Jones. "If human rights are to be protected, the private sector is going to have to get engaged."