Mega-Sporting Events

The Glasgow 2014 Games and Human Rights – An opportunity to put the new Commonwealth Charter into p

Commentary, 16 March 2013

By Lucy Amis, Human Rights and Sport Specialist, Unicef UK; Reseach Fellow, IHRB

The Queen signs the Commonwealth Charter at Marlborough House in London, 11 March 2013. The Charter is an historic document which brings together, for the first time in the association’s 64-year history, key declarations on Commonwealth principles.

"On the back of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (London 2012) - which arguably set the gold standard for sustainability at a Mega-Sporting Event (MSE) – and London’s commitment to leave a lasting legacy, expectations for the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee are high."

This week the Queen signed a charter setting out the Commonwealth's values and commitment to democracy, human rights and equality. The signing of the Charter of the Commonwealth – the content of which was agreed by all 54 Heads of Government in December 2012 - came 500 days before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

This Charter among other things declares that the Commonwealth is: “implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”

The Charter is being viewed by a number of human rights campaigners as a watershed in the Commonwealth’s history. Several gay rights organisations in particular - among them UK-based group Stonewall – acknowledge it may be an important first step towards equality in some of the 41 Commonwealth countries in which homosexuality is still illegal. Yet it remains to be seen whether these and other human rights considerations are adequately being built into plans for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games (Glasgow 2014).

On the back of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (London 2012) - which arguably set the gold standard for sustainability at a Mega-Sporting Event (MSE) – and London’s commitment to leave a lasting legacy, expectations for the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee are high. While it is true that the Commonwealth Games are an order of magnitude smaller than the Summer Olympics – including in terms of budget, physical impact, and participation - there will no doubt be calls for Glasgow to match or better key facets of London’s sustainability performance.

London 2012 was the first MSE to open itself up to scrutiny by an independent assurance body, the Commission for Sustainable London 2012. London’s Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) set a new bar too, by completing construction of Olympic venues with zero fatalities and surpassing construction industry health and safety averages. London’s Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) trod new ground for MSEs as well with its Diversity and Inclusion Business Charter, and Sustainable Sourcing Code that was reinforced by a complaints mechanism.

The Commonwealth, for its part, views sport as key to its identity, and Commonwealth Heads of Government have built on the prominence of the Commonwealth Games by recognising the importance of sport as an effective instrument for social and economic development, and peace. In parallel, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) - which is the Commonwealth’s sports governing body - endorses three core values of humanity, equality and destiny, and among other things has taken a lead by signing the Sports Charter - Tackling Homophobia and Transphobia in Sport.

The CGF also makes much of fact that in 2002 it became the first multi-sport event in the world to include a limited number of full medal events for elite athletes with a disability in its fully inclusive sports programme; albeit that some disabled athletes are upset at the limited number of disability sports events and para-sport classifications currently on offer.

It appears on examination of the published Glasgow 2014 Procurement Sustainability Policy and Glasgow 2014’s website, that there has likely been some level of cross-fertilisation of knowledge between the ODA, LOCOG, and the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee (OC). The OC has, for example, has committed itself to being a living wage employer, and to adhering fully with all relevant UK health and safety regulation – including in relation to employees, volunteers, contractors, partners, suppliers and licensees, and to report quickly on any health and safety failings. Glasgow’s Procurement Sustainability Policy meanwhile states that the OC is committed to managing and monitoring its supply chains in line with “ethical, human rights and employment standards as expressed in the International Labour Organisations (ILO’s) Fundamental Conventions”.

Also mirroring LOCOG’s approach, the OC has promised where goods and services are sourced from overseas, that suppliers will be required to ensure that workers are protected “under the terms of the Ethical Trading Initiatives Base Code and where appropriate the Code of Conduct of The World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry”. The OC also says it will, where appropriate, request key information from its suppliers in order to help monitor progress.

It is far from clear, however, how these promises are to be implemented, since there is no evidence of a parallel commitment to report publicly on progress against the OC’s policy promises. Nor does the OC appear to have put in place an assurance system or independent watchdog body like the Commission for Sustainable London 2012 (CSL 2012).

Over the coming months as the Glasgow 2014 Games approach, stakeholders will start to scrutinise matters more closely, and will be keen to see if Glasgow’s organisers have taken on board, and have begun to address, those areas in particular where London 2012 Olympics was deemed to fallen short. The CSL 2012 highlighted both successes and shortfalls in its final annual review, Breaking the Tape, in June 2012. A key area of concern was over LOCOG’s failure to contractually require suppliers to publicly disclose their supply chain production sites, and to have to rely on voluntary disclosure. Another problem area was over the implementation of LOCOG’s grievance mechanism for dealing with breaches of the Sustainable Sourcing Code.

Although a first for a MSE, LOCOG’s grievance mechanism faced some criticism, including from the Playfair 2012 Campaign, over LOCOG’s failure to act decisively enough to inform workers about the existence of the mechanism or to do so local languages. The CSL 2012 voiced concerns too over the time taken to investigate complaints, and urged future hosts to devote sufficient resources to address this problem. The CSL 2012 drew attention as well to stakeholder concerns about the lack of ethical criteria for corporate sponsors and commercial partners.

There is a role too for the wider business community in Glasgow. The hospitality sector in particular will be looking forward to the increased visitor numbers the Games will attract. As hotels and others found in London 2012 they will also be under increased media scrutiny. Undertaking effective human rights due diligence within their operations, such as that outlined in the Staff Wanted Initiative will ensure that they are not complicit in exploitation or abuse.

Based on the information so far in the public domain, there must be some doubt over whether Glasgow 2014 is building on the sustainability legacy of London 2012. By contrast, as this point in the run-up to the London 2012 event, both LOCOG and the CSL 2012 had already published several annual reviews on the sustainability progress of the Games, and the Sustainable Sourcing Code’s grievance mechanism was in development. With less than 500 days to go, there are no such signs emerging from Glasgow 2014. Stakeholders will watch with interest.

Another thing to look out for, will be whether the UK and Scottish Governments use the hosting of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as a means of promoting human rights and London’s Olympic legacy globally. In August 2012, the UK Foreign Office issued a joint communiqué on Human Rights and the Olympic and Paralympic Games with the governments of the next three Olympic hosts, Russia (Sochi, 2014), Brazil (Rio, 2016), and South Korea (Pyeongchang, 2018).

The communiqué seeks to promote awareness, understanding and application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including by combatting discrimination. As such it is closely aligned with the values of the Commonwealth Charter. There would real value if the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee, together with the UK or Scottish authorities, were to reach out to share learning and promote good human rights practice not only with the next Olympic hosts, but also with those soon to host other MSEs like the FIFA World Cup, such as Qatar.

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