More About This Later: Things you can do to keep your moral compass pointing in the right direction
In two weeks it will be Christmas and no doubt most readers are shopping like mad. It's pointless to criticize the commercialization of Christmas because it is ingrained in our culture, so I'm not going to. Nevertheless there is a plus side to Christmas conspicuous consumption, that is that people can influence current issues through their choice of products, and this brings me to today's issue. In a little over two months the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will begin, and advertisers as well as athletes are thrilled with the prospect. But ordinary people should not be. This spectacle of hypocrisy and sham is being held in a country with an appalling record in human rights and environmental abuses.
Let's list a few, courtesy of Human Rights Watch International (www.hrw.org): exploitation of migrant workers building the Olympic venues; illegal detentions and deportations of those protesting working conditions; evictions of families from the Olympic site, in some cases without any compensation; harassment of civil society activists and journalists speaking out about concerns (e.g. a crew from Norway's TV network was subjected to detention and intimidation just for reporting on Olympic preparations); negative impacts on the environment, as in the case of a village whose residents face their fifth year without reliable drinking water; and last but not least passing draconian laws against gay and lesbian people that could easily result in Canadian athletes being imprisoned for expressing their opinions during the games.
OK so this is Russia, what else is new? What then has the International Olympic Committee (IOC) done to pressure Russia to address these issues which are in direct violation of the Olympic Charter? In one word, nothing. The Olympics is the biggest money machine in sport, and one of the biggest economic events in Russia, which is spending $50 billion on these "games." It pulls in billions from its commercial sponsors. Here are the most important sponsors: CBC ("Your Olympic Network"); Coca Cola; McDonald's; General Electric; NBC; Omega; Panasonic; Samsung; Proctor and Gamble; Visa; Bosco Sportswear. This is the Achilles heel in Russia's plans.
So here's what you can do: for the next two months, do not use any of the sponsors' products if you can help it. If you already own one (for example I have a Samsung phone) simply do not buy any more (there are a ton of Samsung's excellent products besides phones). I've got a Visa card, but like most I have other credit cards too, and use of a debit card is fairer to merchants anyway. When the Olympics do happen, don't watch them on CBC or NBC, or preferably, stop watching these networks altogether for the next two months - their ratings will send the message. All of these companies have websites with "Contact Us" links. Let them know what you are doing and why.
To say "nothing I can do will help" is just a cop-out. If you would not want the abuses being perpetrated in Russia to happen in Canada, there is a moral imperative to act and suffer a little minor inconvenience for just two months. And you can influence your friends to act too. Don't be afraid to be called a crackpot just because you believe in morality. After all, the founder of Christmas was called a crackpot too.
David Tinker is a retired research scientist, writer, and activist living in Annapolis County. He writes the column More About This Later for The Spectator.