Olympic Controversy Bubbles Over at Coca-Cola Shareholder Meeting

At the annual Coca-Cola shareholders meeting Wednesday, CEO Neville Isdell was no doubt happy to report that the world's largest beverage company saw profit rise 19 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier.

But it wasn't just the profits that were up at the meeting. So too were the protests.

Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the Olympics since 1928, has recently been taking flak for its support of the Beijing games. As the torch travels around the world, the pressure is on sponsors from a variety of protesters calling attention to China's repression of the media, its violent crackdown on Tibet and its military and economic support of Sudan, which is responsible for the genocide in Darfur.

Reporters Without Borders representative Lucie Morillon took her protest inside the shareholders' meeting, held in Wilmington, Del.

Morillon, who gained access to the meeting as the owner of two shares of Coca-Cola, was given two minutes to speak.

"I asked Coca-Cola, with repression getting worse and people being sent to jail because of the Olympics, how can you defend your sponsorship of the games, knowing [the games are being held] in a repressive country, and it looks incompatible with your brand?" Morillon told ABCNEWS.com.

"I asked them, would increasing these violations of human rights in China result in the loss of value for Coca-Cola shares?"

Off to Jail

The people being sent to jail that Morillon referred to include AIDS activist and blogger Hu Jia, who was sentenced to 3½ years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power," and Wang Guilin, who was sentenced to 18 months of reeducation-through-work for participating in a campaign whose slogan was "We want human rights, not Olympics Games."

Morillon was not alone registering her protest at the shareholders' meeting. The New York Times reported that a Tibetan protester identified as Lobsang Choefel asked, "Will you tell the IOC [International Olympic Committee] to stop taking the Olympic torch relay into Tibet, because Tibet belongs to Tibetans?"

Isdell, according to The Associated Press, responded, "I don't believe that stopping the torch run is in any way over the long run going to be the right thing to do," and "We are not a political organization."

Petro Kacur, a spokesman for Coca-Cola, told ABC News that the company's "hope [is] that those who are using the Olympics to advance other agendas would use the Olympics to positively engage the world rather than tear down the Olympics. The Olympics and the Olympic values are very unifying global events, and to use that visibility for the cause of the moment is counterproductive."

"We don't involve ourselves in the political decisions of sovereign nations, that is not our role," he said, adding that Coca-Cola supports various journalists' organizations and has "committed more than $5 million to programs that address those who are victims of the conflict in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. That includes programs to address water needs, and donations to the Red Cross, which helps deliver relief supplies, health care services and mobile hospitals."

'Proud of Association'

Despite the protests, he said, "we still are proud of our association with the games."

Two weeks ago, in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, under blue skies, confetti, a portrait of Mao Zedong and heavy police presence, China's president, Hu Jintao, welcomed the 2008 Olympic torch to the capital city.

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