Mr. Jeffrey Immelt
Chief Executive Officer
General Electric Company
3135 Easton Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06828-0001
Dear Mr. Immelt,
With less than one year remaining until the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, we are contacting you to open a discussion as to how those who are engaging with Chinese officials can take full advantage of opportunities to press for corporate responsibility and human rights reforms.
Human Rights Watch has met with International Olympic Committee leaders over the last year, and we are continuing to encourage all those who are engaging with Chinese officials to take full advantage of opportunities to press for basic human rights reforms. As a Top Olympic Partner of the Beijing Games, we believe that General Electric can play an important role in making these Olympics an important example of corporate responsibility and respect for human rights.
The Olympic Charter and the Chinese government articulate a relationship between human rights and the Games. The Olympic Charter states that, “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” and that “[a]ny form of discrimination with regard to a country or person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” In February 2001, Liu Jinmin, the vice-president of the Beijing Olympic Committee then bidding for the Games, stated that a victorious bid would “help further advance the human rights conditions of China.”
Yet Human Rights Watch has researched and documented numerous human rights abuses in China, many specifically related to the government’s hosting of the Olympics and in stark contradiction to these principles. Human Rights Watch has identified four key areas directly related to the Beijing Olympics in which reform is needed:
1) Ending extrajudicial house arrests: In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, numerous human rights defenders have been harassed, detained, or subjected to extrajudicial house arrest. Law enforcement agents, who sometimes do not even identify themselves, simply prevent the targeted person to travel, leave home, or meet visitors. The person subject to such measures is denied even minimal due process, and has no recourse to a judge.
2) Ending media and Internet censorship: The Chinese government has pledged to the IOC that the estimated 20,000 international journalists expected to cover the Beijing Olympics will be allowed to travel freely within the country and report on any issue of their choosing. Yet international journalists are still regularly harassed, and Chinese journalists or bloggers who criticize the regime can face punishments ranging from sudden unemployment to long prison terms. The government also restricts access to all media including the Internet, with its 162 million users in China. Human Rights Watch’s recent report which documents these and other press freedom restrictions is enclosed for your reference.
3) Migrant construction workers in Beijing: In preparation for the Olympics, Beijing is currently employing some one million rural migrant workers. However, these workers face numerous problems including discrimination in employment, lack of adequate protections, dangerous working conditions, and extremely low wages— which are not even always paid. Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly, a ban on independent trade unions, and the absence of effective legal remedies for workers keep migrant workers unprotected and in a precarious state.
4) Forced evictions: To make room for Olympic venues in Beijing and other cities, thousands of Chinese citizens have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Evicted residents left with few avenues of redress have increasingly taken to the streets to protest, where they have met police repression. Courts often refuse to hear eviction cases because of pressure by local officials. Where residents do receive compensation, it is often inadequate.
For more background on these and other abuses, please visit our regularly updated Beijing Olympics website: http://china.hrw.org/press.
As a Top Olympic Partner of the Beijing Olympic Games, we believe that General Electric should ensure that its operations do not involve these types of abuses or exacerbate these problems. We would also encourage you to press the Chinese authorities to make progress in these four important human rights areas, prior to the Games.
We look forward to meeting with you to discuss more specifically how to achieve those objectives, and we will be in touch soon to confirm a meeting time. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Business and Human Rights Director
Asia Advocacy Director