On 27 July 2021, Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association, Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Tibetan Community of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and Tibetan Women’s Association Switzerland (‘the complainants’) filed a specific instance against the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the Swiss NCP. The complaint alleges that the IOC did not conduct sufficient due diligence and accordingly failed to avoid contributing to potential human rights and labour rights violations in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, and other regions in China by awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing.
The complainants allege that the IO awarded the Winter Olympics to China despite knowing that the decision would lead to further abuses against migrant workers and people subject to forced/prison labour due to their being required to construct buildings, merchandise, and equipment for the Olympics. They also claim that several sponsors, partners, and suppliers of the Winter Olympics are (in)directly linked to the human rights and labour rights abuses in Xinjiang, China. Accordingly, the IOC is directly linked to these adverse impacts and has a responsibility under the OECD Guidelines to exercise its leverage with the Chinese government to encourage reforms.
The complainants request mediation:
- To resolve the issues raised, including to identify the necessary steps to be taken by the IOC to fulfill its responsibility to respect human rights (especially of vulnerable groups) who are subject to forced/prison labour and other labour rights abuses and are engaged in activities related to the Winter Olympics.
- To highlight the IOC’s responsibilities in utilizing leverage with China to encourage reforms in its policies towards vulnerable groups.
- To ask the IOC to reconsider its decision to award the Winter Olympics to China if the IOC is not able to guarantee the protection of fundamental rights.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter II
- Chapter II Paragraph A10
- Chapter II Paragraph A11
- Chapter II Paragraph A12
- Chapter II Paragraph A13
- Chapter II Paragraph A14
- Chapter II Paragraph A2
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 1
- Chapter IV Paragraph 3
- Chapter IV Paragraph 4
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
- Chapter IV Paragraph 6
- Chapter V
- Chapter V Paragraph 1 d
- Chapter V Paragraph 1 e
On 23 November 2021, the Swiss NCP published its initial assessment accepting the specific instance and offering its good offices to the parties. Due to the foreseeable duration of the NCP process, the NCP suggested that mediation could focus on the mitigation and remediation of alleged adverse human rights impacts during and due to the 2022 Winter Olympics and the respect of human rights by the IOC in future Olympic Games. The NCP also suggested that mediation could contribute to consideration of the roles and responsibilities of individual actors such as sponsors and suppliers in relation to the provisions of the OECD Guidelines.
In its initial assessment, the NCP carefully considered the applicability of the OECD Guidelines to the IOC (that is, whether the IOC was a multinational enterprise (MNE) covered by the Guidelines). The NCP stated, “the key question should be whether the activities in question are of commercial nature.” In deciding that the IOC was an MNE with responsibilities under the Guidelines, the NCP referred to the IOC having “international operations and a multinational scope” and to the revenues generated from the Winter Olympics for the IOC: “Even if 90 per cent of the generated revenue is to be used to assist athletes and develop sports worldwide and only 10 per cent of the revenue are used for the operational and administrative costs of the Olympic Movement, the involvement of the IOC in the organization of the games can be considered as activities of commercial nature, to which the OECD Guidelines are applicable.” However, the NCP warned that its conclusion that the Guidelines applied to the IOC in this specific instance “does not allow the general conclusion that sports federations are multinational companies. Despite certain commercial activities according to the OECD Guidelines, the IOC and the sport federations remain non-profit organizations whose main purpose is the promotion of sport worldwide, which distinguishes it from most other multinational companies.”
On 21 December 2021, the Swiss NCP published its final statement closing the specific instance. The NCP explained that the complainants had accepted the NCP’s offer of good offices, but the IOC had not due to one of the complainants disclosing the IOC’s confidential written statement to their submission on their website. The IOC stated that the good offices process depends on good faith behaviour of all parties, including maintaining confidentiality where appropriate.
The Swiss NCP made the following recommendations to the parties before closing the specific instance:
- For the IOC to maintain a dialogue with stakeholders, including the complainants.
- For the IOC to disclose its policies and practices for implementing human rights due diligence regarding the awarding and holding of the Olympic Games, including its expectations towards business partners such as sponsors and suppliers having a direct link with IOC’s operations.
- For the complainants to respect the rules of confidentiality in NCP processes in any future submissions to an NCP.
- Company in violation
- Affected people
- Date rejected / concluded
- 21 December 2021