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Fast Talk: An Activist's Difficult Game

Sharon Hom

Executive Director, Human Rights In China
New York, New York

Sharon Hom, 56, has waged a four-year campaign targeting Olympic sponsors, holding closed-door conversations to persuade them to meet higher human-rights obligations.

"The human-rights challenges in China are more complex than, say, torture, so the old-school approach of shaming and finger-pointing doesn't really work. For the Olympics and beyond, what's going to work is getting companies to understand that what's good for shareholders and what's good for human rights is actually the same: a sustainable population or consumer base. For instance, for high-tech companies doing business in China, their sphere of influence is access to information, so they should be promoting privacy issues. Security companies need to make sure that the necessary extra measures being introduced for the Games won't be used afterward to monitor the Chinese people, in particular the protest community.

Protests during the Games are going to be unavoidable. This kind of volatility is not a good investment climate. The business community has a responsibility not to contribute, even implicitly, to human-rights violations. What they do now leading up to the Games will determine if there will be some real blowback for them afterward. Everyone is starting to do an audit of conscience."

A version of this article appeared in the September 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.