Activist Shareholder Accuses Disney of ‘Complicity in China Genocide’

Activist Shareholder Accuses Disney of ‘Complicity in China Genocide’
People walk past advertising displays for Disneys Mulan film at a cinema inside a shopping mall in Bangkok on Sept. 8, 2020. (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)
Michael Washburn

An activist shareholder put forward a resolution at the Walt Disney Company’s annual shareholder meeting on March 9 that sought to require the company to make more disclosures about what it is doing to gauge the impact of its activities on the human rights situation in countries like China.

The measure was introduced by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a Virginia-based advocacy group, in light of “Disney’s longtime cozy relationship with the communist government of China, which has been credibly accused of slavery, torture, and genocide,” according to a Wednesday statement. The group also accused the company of “complicity in China genocide.”

The resolution, which failed, sought to bind Disney to issue an annual report regarding its monitoring of the human rights impacts of its business in foreign markets, including China.

The Walt Disney Company’s ability and willingness to pull out of a market, even a very large and lucrative one, over concerns about the behavior of its ruling regime is not in doubt. On March 10, the company decided that it would suspend all business in Russia, after having announced the week before that would stop releasing new movies in the country in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, the film studio spends massive amounts of money to produce films in China, including recently the $200 million fantasy-action epic “Mulan.” China is also a leading market for animated Disney films, including such box office hits as “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E,” and the “Toy Story” franchise.

In his remarks at the shareholders’ meeting, Paul Chesser, head of the NLPC’s Corporate Integrity Project, characterized his organization’s request as modest and reasonable, and expressed frustration with the reception that the resolution met with from Disney executives.

“An annual report on due diligence on human rights is all we ask for from the Walt Disney Company. But Disney’s board of directors says that’s a waste of company time and money,” Chesser said.

Chesser contrasted this lack of interest in taking action on Chinese human rights with what he called Disney’s highly proactive stance on an array of “social justice initiatives,” such as the removal of historical symbols deemed offensive from public display, the imposition of “abusive” racial training programs on employees, and the addition of content warnings to canonical Disney movies such as “Fantasia” and “Dumbo.”

In his comments, Chesser took particular exception to the filming of the 2020 film “Mulan” in China’s Xinjiang region, which is widely known to be ground zero for the communist regime’s persecution of the Uyghur minority, characterized by the U.S. government and others as a genocide.

“Rather than avoid Xinjiang and the abusive government that manages the region, Disney instead filmed ‘Mulan’ there and then thanked the local authorities for their help in the film’s credits,” Chesser said.

As of press time, the Walt Disney Company had not responded to a request for comment from the Epoch Times.

Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics for The Epoch Times. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”
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