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Coca-Cola Drops the Ball on Gay Rights at Sochi

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Although activists will target other companies too, many hoped Coca-Cola would lead the way with a strong statement against Russia's new laws.

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T-minus 99 days until the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia; and the countdown -- and the pressure -- is now focused on American brands.

Gay rights group AllOut showed up at Coca-Cola's (NYSE:KO) headquarters in Atlanta on Monday in an effort to urge the longtime Olympic sponsor to demand a repeal of an anti-gay law at the Sochi Games. Put on the books this summer by the Russian parliament and tacitly endorsed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the laws can impose thousands of dollars in fines and even imprisonment on any citizen, visitor, or athlete who expresses gay-affirmative views at the Games.

Billboards reading "Coca-Cola," "Don't Stay Bottled Up," and "Speak Out Against Russia's Anti-Gay Laws" were splashed across trucks that passed through the company's campus while individual protesters picketed across the street from the main gates.

Together, with human rights organization SumOfUs, AllOut was also armed with petitions bearing a half million signatures calling on the soft drink giant to publicly condemn the law.

But Coca-Cola doesn't seem willing to go that distance. Despite reports of meetings among top executives about whether or not to take decisive action -- and consequently the postponement of those meetings -- it appears the company has merely decided to maintain the status quo.

Coca-Cola's official position, posted on the corporate website, is one of boilerplate platitudes that doesn't agree with sanctioned injustice, but stops short of condemning it:
As one of the world's most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity. We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion and diversity through both our policies and practices. We do not condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world.

Of course, Coca-Cola isn't the only game in Sochi. Also underwriting the Olympics are mega corporations McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and Visa (NYSE:V). Comcast-owned (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC is paying $775 million to broadcast the Games while its journalists will be either muzzled on the highly relevant topic of homosexuality or face the criminal consequences for reporting news.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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