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Disney accused by activist shareholder of 'complicity in China genocide'

Disney was confronted at its annual shareholder meeting over alleged inconsistency on responding to human rights issues

March 11, 2022

The Walt Disney Company was confronted at its annual shareholder meeting Wednesday by an activist shareholder who accused the company of "complicity in China genocide," claiming the entertainment giant was being hypocritical for pulling its business away from Russia over human rights abuses but turning a blind eye to atrocities committed in China.

The shareholder was the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog that proposed a resolution requiring Disney to conduct an annual due diligence report "evaluating the human rights impacts of its business and associations with foreign entities," including foreign nations.

The logo and a ticker symbol for The Walt Disney Company on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, Dec. 14, 2017. (Reuters / Reuters Photos)

The resolution failed.

Paul Chesser, director of the NLPC's Corporate Integrity Project, presented the resolution and spoke at the meeting, lambasting the company for allegedly claiming such a report would be a waste of resources while it invests heavily in China and dedicates millions to social justice initiatives elsewhere.

"They had the time and money to film ‘Mulan’ in the part of communist China with among the most disgusting and egregious human rights violations in the world – in Xinjiang," Chesser said in his remarks, referencing the Chinese province where more than a million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in concentration camps and purportedly used as slave labor.

"Meanwhile, Disney executives say they will not release any new films in Russia due to Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine," Chesser went on to say. "Since when do ESG principles mean you get to support genocidal regimes in Asia, but you must oppose colonial warmongering in Europe?"

ESG refers to the Environmental, Social, Government (ESG) socially conscious standards that corporations are being pushed to adopt by influential investment firms like BlackRock, the largest money manager in the world with more than $9 trillion in assets under its control.

‘Cognitive dissonance’

"There seems to be a cognitive dissonance between how these major corporations, including Disney, are treating the whole Russia-Ukraine situation: ‘We’re going to disinvest in Russia,' and so forth," Chesser told FOX Business. "But they're not looking at China, whose human rights violations … have been verified and documented by the State Department under both [Presidents] Trump and Biden."

"There is a genocide going on [in China], and they do engage in slave labor, and they do force abortions upon the Uyghurs," Chesser said. "These companies are just ignoring it."

Witness Uyghur teacher Qelbinur Sidik holds up a photo of the hospital where she says she underwent a forced sterilization procedure on the first day of hearings at the "Uyghur Tribunal", a panel of U.K.-based lawyers and rights experts investigating (Getty Images / Getty Images)

"I think these companies don't see that they're losing all that much by disinvesting in Russia, but with China, it's an enormous market," he said. "They don't want to lose access to it, so they want to stay on the good side of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and not upset the apple cart."

What happens when China invades Taiwan?" Chesser asked rhetorically. "These companies have already remained silent when Hong Kong fell and China just shut down any freedom of activity and speech there."

Disney did not respond to FOX Business' request for a response to the NLPC's claims.

Under fire in Florida

Meanwhile, Disney is under fire from both sides of the political aisle over its response to Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill that bans Florida educators from classroom instruction on "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade.

It was passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature, and was labeled the "Don't Say Gay" bill by Democrats.

Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

Disney initially refrained from taking a public position on the bill, drawing the ire of activists that sought to stop it. CEO Bob Chapek then spoke out against the legislation during the shareholders meeting Wednesday, announcing the company would be donating $5 million to LGBTQ groups and that he would seek a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis to express his and the company's opposition to it.

One of the organizations Chapek promised money to was Human Rights Watch, which has been vehemently opposed to the bill. HRW then put out a statement condemning Disney, saying it would not accept the funds until the company did more to fight for LGBTQ rights.

DeSantis fires back

DeSantis then slammed Disney on Thursday.

"You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents' rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten, in first-grade classrooms," the Republican governor said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Las Vegas, Nov. 6, 2021. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

"If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China?" DeSantis continued. "Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP."

"And so in Florida, our policy's got to be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musing of woke corporations," he added.

Meanwhile, NLPC's Chesser acknowledges that his group is engaged in stakeholder activism, but says they serve as a counter-weight to leftist activists that currently have an outsized influence on the actions of major American companies.

Chesser says of NLPC's position: "We believe that corporations should be politics-neutral."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified ESG criteria as "Economic, Social, Government"


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