Criticism of Coca-Cola

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Criticism of Coca-Cola has arisen from various groups, concerning a variety of issues, including health effects, environmental issues, and business practices. The Coca-Cola Company, its subsidiaries and products have been subject to sustained criticism by both consumer groups and watchdogs, particularly since the early 2000s.

Allegations against the company are varied, including

  • possible health effects of Coca-Cola products,
  • a poor environmental record,
  • perception of the companies' engagement in monopolistic business practices,
  • questionable labour practices (including allegations of involvement with paramilitary organisations in suppression of trade unions),
  • questionable marketing strategies, and
  • accusation of violations of intellectual property rights.

Perception of the company as behaving unethically has led to the formation of pressure groups such as "Killer Coke", product boycotts, and lawsuits.

Health effects[edit]

Since studies indicate "soda and sweetened drinks are the main source of calories in [the] American diet",[1] most nutritionists advise that Coca-Cola and other soft drinks can be harmful if consumed excessively, particularly to young children whose soft drink consumption competes with, rather than complements, a balanced diet. Studies have shown that regular soft drink users have a lower intake of calcium, magnesium, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin A.[2] The drink has also aroused criticism for its use of caffeine, which can cause physical dependence.[3] A link has been shown between long-term regular cola intake and osteoporosis in older women (but not men).[4] This was thought to be due to the presence of phosphoric acid, and the risk was found to be the same for caffeinated and noncaffeinated colas, as well as the same for diet and sugared colas.

Acidity and tooth decay[edit]

Numerous court cases have been filed against the Coca-Cola Company since the 1940s alleging that the acidity of the drink is dangerous. In some of these cases, evidence has been presented showing Coca-Cola is no more harmful than comparable soft drinks or acidic fruit juices. Frequent exposure of teeth to acidic drinks increases the risk of tooth damage through dental erosion.[5][6] This form of tooth decay is unrelated to dental caries.[7]

High fructose corn syrup[edit]

High fructose corn syrup was rapidly introduced in many processed foods and soda drinks in the US over the period of about 1975–1985. Since 1985 in the U.S., Coke has been made with high fructose corn syrup instead of sucrose to reduce costs. One of the reasons this has come under criticism is because the corn used to produce corn syrup often comes from genetically altered plants.[8] Some nutritionists also caution against consumption of high fructose corn syrup because of possible links to obesity and diabetes.[9]

This causes problems with Coke's distribution and bottling network, because specific franchise districts are guaranteed an exclusive market area for Coke products. Mexican-made Coca-Cola may often be found for sale in stores catering to the Hispanic immigrant community. Kosher for Passover Coke is also made with cane sugar, rather than corn syrup, due to the special dietary restrictions for observant Jews. Some Orthodox Jews do not consume corn during the holiday. Bottled with yellow caps, this variant can be found in some areas of the US around April.[10]

Risks arising from over-consumption[edit]

In the February 2010 death of a 31-year-old New Zealand woman, the coroner concluded "were it not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when she died and how she died"; Harris was found to have suffered from hypokalemia and "had an enlarged liver, and deposits of fat within the liver, which pathologist Dr Dan Mornin attributed to the consumption of 'excessive amounts of sugar'." Christopher Hodgkinson, the long-term partner of Harris, "estimated Natasha consumed four 2.25 litre bottles of Coke a day [and drank] no other beverage."[11]

India secret formula ban[edit]

Coca-Cola was India's leading soft drink until 1977 when it left India after a new government ordered the company to turn over its secret formula for Coca-Cola and dilute its stake in its Indian unit as required by the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).[12] In 1993, the company (along with PepsiCo) returned after the introduction of India's Liberalization policy.[13]

Environmental issues[edit]

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff, on concerns in India.

In India, there exists widespread concern over how Coca-Cola is produced. In particular, it is feared that the water used to produce Coke may contain unhealthy levels of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. It has also been alleged that due to the amount of water required to produce Coca-Cola, aquifers are drying up and forcing farmers to relocate.[14]

Pesticide use[edit]

In 2003, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE),[15][16] a non-governmental organisation in New Delhi, said aerated waters produced by soft drinks manufacturers in India, including multinational giants PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, contained toxins including lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifospesticides that can contribute to cancer and a breakdown of the immune system. Tested products included Coke, Pepsi, and several other soft drinks (7Up, Mirinda, Fanta, Thums Up, Limca, Sprite), many produced by The Coca-Cola Company.

CSE found that the Indian produced Pepsi's soft drink products had 36 times the level of pesticide residues permitted under European Union regulations; Coca-Cola's 30 times. CSE said it had tested the same products in the US and found no such residues.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo angrily denied allegations that their products manufactured in India contained toxin levels far above the norms permitted in the developed world. David Cox, Coke's Hong Kong-based communications director for Asia, accused Sunita Narain, CSE's director, of "brandjacking" — using Coke's brand name to draw attention to her campaign against pesticides. Narain defended CSE's actions by describing them as a natural follow-up to a previous study it did on bottled water.[17]

In 2004, an Indian parliamentary committee backed up CSE's findings, and a government-appointed committee was tasked with developing the world's first pesticide standards for soft drinks. Coke and PepsiCo oppose the move, arguing that lab tests aren't reliable enough to detect minute traces of pesticides in complex drinks like soda.

The Coca-Cola Company has responded that its plants filter water to remove potential contaminants and that its products are tested for pesticides and must meet minimum health standards before they are distributed.[18]

Coca-Cola had registered a 11 percent drop in sales after the pesticide allegations were made in 2003.[19]

As of 2005, Coke and Pepsi together hold 95% market share of soft-drink sales in India.[17]

In 2006, the Indian state of Kerala banned the sale and production of Coca-Cola, along with other soft drinks, due to concerns of high levels of pesticide residue[20] On Friday, September 22, 2006, the High Court in Kerala overturned the Kerala ban, ruling that only the federal government can ban food products.[21]

Water use[edit]

Environmental degradation in the form of depletion of the local ground water table due to the utilisation of natural water resources by the company poses a serious threat to many communities.

In March 2004, local officials in Kerala shut down a $16 million Coke bottling plant blamed for a drastic decline in both quantity and quality of water available to local farmers and villagers.[17]

In April 2005, Kerala's highest court rejected water use claims, noting that wells there continued to dry up last summer, months after the local Coke plant stopped operating. Further, a scientific study requested by the court found that while the plant had "aggravated the water scarcity situation," the "most significant factor" was a lack of rainfall. Critics respond that Coke shouldn't be locating bottling plants in drought-stricken areas.[17] In Plachimada, Coca-Cola is allegedly responsible for creating problems for communities by creating severe water shortages and polluting the groundwater and soil, destroying farms by draining them out completely. The plant here used about 900,000 liters of water last year, about a third of it for the soft drinks, the rest to clean bottles and machinery. It is drawn from wells at the plant but also from aquifers Coca-Cola shares with neighboring farmers. The water is virtually free to all users. These farmers who have been protesting say their problems began after the Coca-Cola factory arrived in 1999.

The company has been trying to regain the plant's license, fighting a case that has gone all the way to India's Supreme Court.[17]

Near the holy city of Varanasi in northeastern India, a local water official blamed a Coke plant — which has been the scene of many protests by NGOs and local residents — for polluting groundwater by releasing wastewater into surrounding land. A Coke official confirmed that there had been a drainage problem with treated wastewater several years ago but said that the company built a long pipeline to correct it.[17]

Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva has stated that it takes nine litres of clean water to manufacture a litre of Coke[22] though Coca-Cola says it is only an average of 3.12 litres.[23]

The case has been appealed and a decision is pending. Coca-Cola has set up a page to rebut these charges at a domain that was once owned by its detractors.

India[edit]

Coca-Cola's operations in India have come under intense scrutiny as many communities are experiencing severe water shortages as well as contaminated groundwater and soil that some assert[24] are a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations. A massive movement has emerged across India to hold The Coca-Cola Company accountable for its actions. The state of Kerala imposed a ban of colas from the state only to be quashed by Coca-Cola; the matter is pending in the supreme court.[citation needed] The Plachimada plant in Kerala state, one of Coca-Cola's largest bottling facilities in India, has remained shut for 17 months now because the village council has refused to renew its license, blaming the company for causing water shortages and pollution.

In Sivaganga District of Tamil Nadu state there were several protests and rallies opposing the proposed Coca-Cola bottling plant in fear of water depletion and contamination.[25][26] The president of the Gangaikondan panchayat, Mr. V. Kamson died under mysterious circumstances[vague] two days after going back and forth in his resentment against the upcoming Coca-Cola bottling plant in the village. When asked about the conflicting statements, he said: "I am under immense pressure from the public, police and other quarters. So I have issued this statement."[27] Five other Indian states have announced partial bans on the drinks in schools, colleges and hospitals.[28]

Packaging[edit]

Packaging used in Coca-Cola's products has a significant environmental impact but the company strongly opposes attempts to introduce mechanisms such as container deposit legislation.[29]

Economic business practices[edit]

Monopolistic[edit]

In 2000, a United States federal judge dismissed an antitrust lawsuit filed by PepsiCo Inc. accusing Coca-Cola Co. of monopolizing the market for fountain-dispensed soft drinks in the United States.[30]

In June 2005, Coca-Cola in Europe formally agreed to end deals with shops and bars to stock its drinks exclusively after a European Union investigation found its business methods stifled competition.[31]

In November 2005, Coca-Cola's Mexican unit - Coca-Cola Export Corporation - and a number of its distributors and bottlers were fined $68 million for unfair commercial practices. Coca-Cola is appealing the case.[32]

Marketing[edit]

In 1993, US investigative journalist Mark Pendergrast published For God, Country, and Coca Cola (ISBN 0465054684), an in-depth study of the marketing phenomenon which had made Coca-Cola synonymous with US culture.

The company removed its branding from vending machines in Scottish schools in December 2003, replacing it with a graphic of an urban scene.[33]

In April 2009, a consumer watchdog group known as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruled that an ad Coca-Cola had taken out in Australian newspapers in October of the preceding year, in which Kerry Armstrong "debunked" alleged "myths" regarding the adverse effect of soda consumption, was "totally unacceptable, creating an impression which is likely to mislead that Coca-Cola cannot contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay. They also had the potential to mislead parents about the potential consequences of consuming Coca Cola."[34]

In January 2013, the company introduced a TV ad addressing obesity, entitled Coming Together, which made them the target of considerable criticism.

"Channel stuffing" settlement[edit]

Coca-Cola Co, on July 7, 2008 compromised to pay $137.5 million to settle an October 2000 shareholder lawsuit. Coca-Cola was charged in a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, with "forcing some bottlers to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary beverage concentrate to make its sales seem higher." Institutional investors, led by Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity, accused Coca-Cola of "channel stuffing," or artificial inflation of Coca-Cola's results which gave investors a false picture of the company's health.[35] The settlement applies to Coca-Cola common stock owners from Oct 21, 1999 to March 6, 2000.[36]

Bribery accusations[edit]

Coca-Cola has been accused of bribing the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). In 2003 Coca-Cola donated $1 million to the AAPD. Later that year the AAPD stated that "scientific evidence is certainly not clear on the exact role that soft drinks play in terms of children's oral disease", directly contradicting their previous statements such as "consumption of sugars in any beverage can be a significant factor…that contributes to the initiation and progression of dental caries." Critics have stated it certainly appears that Coca-Cola has "paid dentists to stop saying kids shouldn't drink Coke".[37][38]

H2NO[edit]

Coca-Cola has been criticized for their H2NO program which sought to have customers order more profitable beverages, including soft-drinks and bottled water over tap water.[39]

Tax issues[edit]

Vietnam[edit]

Coca-cola has continuously reported losses in the last decade of operations in Vietnam despite it being one of the biggest players in the domestic beverage market.[40][41]

Nazi Germany and World War II[edit]

In common with many large American companies, Coca-Cola had a controversial relationship with Germany before and during World War II.[42] In 1936, Coca-Cola was deemed unsuitable for children due to its sugar content and additives.

A division of the company continued to operate in Germany during the war, but were unable to import the syrup needed for production of Coca-Cola from the United States.

Before and during World War II, Coca-Cola adopted an apparent policy of ignoring the practice of eugenics and anti-Semitism by Nazi Germany, according to a 2000 book by Mark Pendergrast. Several of Coke's top executives in Germany were public members of the NSDAP (Nazi Party). When the United States entered World War II, Coke began to represent its product in the US as a patriotic drink by providing free drinks for soldiers of the United States Army,[43] thus allowing the company to be exempt from sugar rationing.[44]

The United States Army permitted Coca-Cola employees to enter the front lines as "Technical Officers" when in reality they rarely if ever came close to a real battle. Instead, they operated Coke's system of providing refreshments for soldiers, who welcomed the beverage as a reminder of home. As the Allies of World War II advanced, so did Coke, which took advantage of the situation by establishing new franchises in the newly liberated countries.[43]

Coca-Cola set up bottling plants in several locations overseas to assure the drink's availability to soldiers, setting the stage for the company's post-war overseas expansion. The popularity of the drink exploded as US soldiers returned home from the war with a taste for the drink.[43]

At the same time, according to Jones E and Ritzman F. in Coca Cola Goes to War, "the soft drinks giant from Atlanta, Georgia collaborated with the Nazi-regime throughout its reign from 1933–1945 and sold countless millions of bottled beverages to Hitler’s Germany." [45]

Fanta, a product developed in Germany due to shortages of supplies to make Coca-Cola, was merged into the Coca-Cola brand line following the end of the war.

Investments and operations in apartheid South Africa[edit]

Coca-Cola entered South Africa in 1938 and, after the beginning of the official white South African government's policy of apartheid or "separate development" beginning in 1948, the company grew rapidly. By the 1980s at the height of racial oppression, with 90% of the market, Coke dominated the soft-drink industry with sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars, accounting for 5% of the parent company's global market. Coke employed 4,500 workers, operating under the racially-segregated housing, workplace, and wages, and was one of the largest employers in the country.[46]

In 1982 in South Africa, black workers asked the community to boycott Coke and called two work stoppages until the company agreed to recognize and bargain with their union, raise its workers' low wages significantly, and share information on who controls their pension fund.[47]

As a result of Coke's economic support of white South Africa and its apartheid system, in the 1980s, it became a major target of organizers across the country against U.S. and corporate economic support for apartheid in the U.S. In the early 1980s, students at the Michigan State University Southern Africa Liberation Committee called for a "National Coke Boycott" until the corporation agreed to disinvest from South Africa to end their support of the apartheid system. The students succeeded in eliminating Coca-Cola products and vending machines from campus dormitories, cafeterias, and classroom buildings. Beginning in 1985, the national campaign to boycott Coca-Cola products was headed from Atlanta, Coca-Cola's headquarters, by the Georgia Coalition for Divestment in South Africa (GCDSA) and the Southern Africa Program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).[46] Boycotts then spread across the country to many universities including Tennessee State, Penn State, and Compton College in California, which established a "Coke Free Campus." Demonstrations were held by the Georgia Coalition and the AFSC at Coca-Cola's Atlanta headquarters.[48] More than 40 national and local organizations sponsored the boycott, calling on the corporation to liquidate all assets and terminate its licensing agreements in South Africa, end supplying the Coke "secret ingredient" to bottlers there, and eliminate all Coca-Cola insignia and signage there.[46] By 1987, the boycotts spread to University of Illinois-UC, UC-Santa Barbara, and other campuses. It also was a major theme of the Washington Mobilization March for Peace and Justice in 1987 where posters and buttons proclaimed "Coke sweetens apartheid," while demonstrations continued at the company's Atlanta headquarters.[49]

In South Africa, in 1986, the Coca-Cola response was to donate US$10 million to a fund to support improvements of housing and education for black South Africans and to announce "...plans to sell its 30% share of a major bottler and a 55% share of a canning operation within six to nine months." [50] (The company's assets there were estimated at US$60 million, their annual sales were circa US$260 million, and with 4,300 workers one of the largest U.S. employers in South Africa.) However, the movement in the U.S. demanded full divestiture and did not accept the company's offer to sell a major portion of the holdings to a South African firm.[51]

By summer 1990, Nelson Mandela had been released from the Robben Island Prison, but the Boycott Coke movement maintained their call for disinvestment until and if democratic elections were held. As a result, the movement obtained an agreement from the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Oakland, CA to remove Coke machines from the floor where Mandela was to be housed during the visit and replaced them with Pepsi vending machines. Also, the movement allegedly saw that Mandela was not served Coca-Cola on at least one of his flights in the U.S. in his tour to thank the people of the U.S. for their support of the struggle against apartheid.[52]

After democratic elections that produced Mandela's majority rule government, Pepsi sought to re-enter the South African market. In fact, "Coke never truly left the country, leading to overwhelming dominance through the rest of the 20th century. Pepsi adhered to different social imperatives and suffered exceptionally low market shares as a result." [53] Indeed, in the late 2000s, Coke's market share of the soft drink market in South Africa was estimated at 95% and Pepsi's at 2%.[54] For more details on this boycott and disinvestment movement, see a number of articles, posters, photos, buttons, and remembrances on the African Activist Archive at <http://africanactivist.msu.edu/asearch.php?keyword=coke>.

The Bigio family case[edit]

Following two years of negotiations with Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta, the Bigio family, living in Canada, filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola on April 21, 1997 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Foley Square) Case #97-CV-02858.[55][56] The suit alleges Coke knowingly purchased Bigio family property in Egypt after the Egyptian government illegally seized it from them in the 1960s because they were Jewish. The suit was filed in United States federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute, which gives non-US citizens the right to sue in US courts for alleged violations of international law. The case may be the first of many court battles in the United States brought by Jews seeking to recover confiscated property from Arab countries. "At a minimum, a private corporation that acts in concert with a foreign government is liable for violations of international law," asserted Grant Vinik, an attorney who, along with Nat Lewin, is representing the Bigio family.[55]

Starting in 1938, the Bigio family factories in Egypt were licensed by Coca-Cola to produce several products such as bottle caps. In addition, Coca-Cola had a bottling plant on property it had rented from the Bigios. In 1962, the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser confiscated the land and factories, transferring it to state-owned companies. "When we left Egypt, we left with $5 each," said Bigio.[55] After Nasser's death in 1970 privatization began, which meant state-owned property could be sold to private bidders in 1993. In 1994 the Bigios warned Coca-Cola not to proceed with the acquisition of the property without compensating the family. Coca-Cola went ahead with that acquisition in 1994 without compensating the Bigios.

On a third appeal in the lawsuit, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in March 2012 affirmed the district court's dismissal of all claims against Coca-Cola, holding that had any wrongs occurred, they were inflicted by the Egyptian government and The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Egypt(TCCBCE)also referred by the court as "Coca-Cola Egypt" as well as "CCE". The Coca-Cola Company confirmed in its shareholders report for year 1994 that it owned 38% of the shares of TCCBCE. The Court of Appeals in its conclusion it stated :

"The facts alleged in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint, if true, tell a tragic story of religious discrimination in Egypt in the 1960s. We understand the Bigios’ desire for compensation and admire their persistence in seeking to right the wrong allegedly done them. However, that wrong, if it did indeed occur, was inflicted by the Egyptian government, Misr Insurance Company, and CCE, not by Defendants."

In January 2013, the United States Supreme Court, which had refused the Coca Cola’s Certiorari, also refused that of the Bigios and thereby letting the decision of the Court of Appeal stand with regards to The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Egypt. Shaher Abdel Hak, a major shareholder was also its Chairman.

Employee issues[edit]

Racial discrimination[edit]

In November 2000, Coca-Cola agreed to pay $192.5 million to settle a class action racial discrimination lawsuit and promised to change the way it manages, promotes and treats minority employees in the US. In 2003, protesters at Coca-Cola's annual meeting claimed that black people remained underrepresented in top management at the company, were paid less than white employees and fired more often.[57] In 2004, Luke Visconti, a co-founder of Diversity Inc., which rates companies on their diversity efforts, said: "Because of the settlement decree, Coca-Cola was forced to put in management practices that have put the company in the top 10 for diversity."[58]

Bottling plant murders[edit]

Guatemala[edit]

In the 1970s, a Coca-Cola franchised bottling plant in Guatemala suffered a spate of mysterious murders of union-affiliated employees leading to the non-renewal of the bottling plant's license in 1981. "Coca-Cola found a new owner, and following repair work and construction on the plant, work resumed at the Guatemala bottling plant on March 1, 1985." [59] The Company's decisions were made after pressure from several groups, including a shareholder resolution filed in 1979.[59] The Company argued that "it had no right to interfere in labor disputes between independent parties and asserting that such an intrusion would be improper."[59]

On February 25, 2010, a new lawsuit was launched on behalf of 8 plaintiffs against The Coca-Cola Co. and Coke processing and bottling plants in Guatemala, with charges of murder, rape, and torture of union leaders and their families.[60] The plaintiffs were victims of employees associated with Industria de Café SA, or Incasa, which operates an instant coffee and Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City. The plaintiffs said Incasa “is or was previously owned by Coca-Cola.” [61]

Colombia[edit]

Panamerican Beverages (Panamco), Coca-Cola's main bottler in Latin America, has been criticized for its relationship with unions. In Colombia, it has been alleged that the bottling company hired paramilitary mercenaries to assassinate union leaders. These charges have resulted in several court cases and boycott actions against The Coca-Cola Company.

In July 2001, the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit in US court against Coca-Cola and some bottlers in Colombia on behalf of their workers.[62] This lawsuit was titled Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola. According to the plaintiffs, the companies "hired, contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces". The companies denied the charges. In April 2003 District Judge Jose E Martinez in Miami excluded The Coca-Cola Company and its Colombian unit because its bottling agreement did not give it "explicit control" over labor issues in Colombia.

In January 2004, a New York City-based fact-finding delegation, a self-initiated group that included some city officials in a personal capacity,[63][64] confirmed the workers' allegations. They found:

To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including 9 murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.
Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval....

The bottler and The Coca-Cola Company deny these allegations. Specifically, The Coca-Cola Company stated in its 2004 proxy[65]

Two different independent inquiries in Colombia —a judicial inquiry by a Colombian Court, and an inquiry by the Colombian Attorney General's office— examined the specific issue of whether managers at a bottling plant were complicit in the murder of a trade unionist. They found no evidence to support the allegation. Further, based on internal investigations conducted by our Company and by our bottling partners, we are confident that allegations the bottlers engaged paramilitaries to intimidate trade unionists are false.
The allegations made against us in Colombia are not merely false; they are repugnant to all of us at The Coca-Cola Company. We agree with the proponents that our Company must clearly demonstrate that we and our bottling partners support human and labor rights and oppose all forms of violence. Our desire is for Coca-Cola to be seen as part of the solution to some of the business issues in Colombia today. We are convinced our current approach will allow for that outcome.

Critics argue that, whatever their source, these assassinations seem to have been helpful to Coca-Cola in eliminating agitators from their bottling plants.

The Coca-Cola Case is a feature-length documentary by the National Film Board of Canada about the situation.[66]

Since 2003, the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, directed by Ray Rogers, of Corporate Campaign Inc. (CCI), has successfully urged numerous unions and universities to boycott Coke products as part of a corporate campaign strategy to keep pressure on Coca-Cola to address these issues and make restitution to the victims and their families.

SINALTRAINAL lawsuit[edit]

Colombian trade union SINALTRAINAL (National Union of Food Industry Workers) called for an international boycott of Coca-Cola products because of intimidation, kidnapping and murder of workers in Coca-Cola bottling plants by paramilitaries. With the help of the United Steelworkers of America, SINALTRAINAL filed a lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company (Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola). On March 31, 2003, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed charges against The Coca-Cola Company because the alleged wrongdoing either occurred in the United States but was too removed from the injury or occurred abroad but did not have a substantial origin within the United States.[6] Judge Jose E. Martinez allowed the case to go forward against two Coca-Cola bottlers: Bebidas y Alimentos and Panamerican Beverages, but not against Coke itself.[7] On September 4, 2006, Judge Martinez dismissed the remaining claims against the two bottlers.[67]

Shareholder resolution attempt (2002)[edit]

In 2002, Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc. submitted, along with other co-filers, a shareholder resolution that called for Coca-Cola to adopt a code of conduct on bottling practices and employee relations. Problems in Colombia were cited, but the proposal called for "clear standards for its suppliers, vendors and bottlers."[68] The resolution received support from Coca-Cola unions in Colombia, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, and the United States.[69]

However, Coca-Cola's board of directors recommended rejecting the proposal, noting in the proxy: "We believe that the Company's existing policies address substantially all of the concerns raised in this proposal, and that the proposal is therefore unnecessary... For example, both our policy and the Principles specifically provide that we (i) will not condone the exploitation of children, physical punishment or involuntary servitude; and (ii) will pay wages that enable our employees to meet their basic needs."[70]

Ultimately, shareholders rejected the resolution.

Boycotts and controversies[edit]

The boycott example which started in Ireland[citation needed] has continued to spread across the world, with the National Union of Students in Britain voting to support the boycott in April 2005. UNISON, the largest trade union in the UK, also voted to support the boycott at its 2004 National Delegate Conference. ECOSY, the European Young Socialists, a federation of youth wings of all the mainstream socialist and social democratic parties in the EU, voted to support the boycott in March 2005 following a motion from the Irish Labour Youth delegation. Campuses and labor and trade unions in the United States, Italy, France and Canada, amongst others, are also campaigning for the boycott to spread. The University of Michigan banned Coke products from their campuses, bringing the number to over 23. Several US universities have switched to Pepsi in school-run facilities (not including vending machines, but including eateries and sports arenas) in support of the boycott.

Sochi 2014[edit]

In June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors." The wording of the law is intentionally vague, but it is widely interpreted as outlawing any public support for LGBT rights. Since the law was enacted, many protestors have been attacked and arrested.[71] Critics believe the law is intended to normalize homophobia, and many have called for an outright boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia. The controversy has also led to boycotts of the Sochi 2014 sponsors, including Coca-Cola.

One such campaign calls for participants to drink "Anything But Coke" until Coca-Cola pulls sponsorship.[72] Coca-Cola has been given extra attention due to their LGBT positive reputation and their ongoing $3 billion investment in the Russian market.[73] The "Anything But Coke" campaign has been realized in protests across U.S. college campuses, including Carnegie Mellon University and Wesleyan University.[74]

Coca-Cola has responded to the controversy in an open letter on their website, originally posted in August 2013. In the letter, they assert their status as "one of the world’s most inclusive brands" and point to their record of supporting LGBT rights in the past.[75] However, they did not directly address the protestor's concerns or make any public statements about Russia's new legislation.

Israel and the Middle East[edit]

In 1949, Coca-Cola attempted to open a plant in Israel but was refused a permit. Eager to avoid the Arab League boycott and sell to the much larger Arab market, Coca-Cola was content not to sell in Israel. In 1961 the issue came up again when an Egyptian civil servant mistook Amharic writing on a Coca-Cola bottle for Hebrew, and accused Coca-Cola of doing business with Israel. The manager of Egypt's Coca-Cola bottling operations quickly informed the press that Coca-Cola would never do business with Israel; forced to elaborate upon this, Coca-Cola officials explained that Israel was too small a market for a Coca-Cola operation.

The issue arose again on April 1, 1966 when Moshe Bronstein, a Tel Aviv businessman, accused Coca-Cola of boycotting Israel to appease its Arab market. The Anti-Defamation League took up this cause in the United States, and questions were raised about Coca-Cola's previous explanation for not operating in Israel: If Coca-Cola could have an operation in Cyprus, whose market was one-tenth the size of Israel's, why then was Israel too small for a Coca-Cola operation? Pressure on Coca-Cola grew, and faced with potential American boycotts, Coca-Cola promised to open a bottling plant in Tel Aviv. In response, the Arab League boycotted Coca-Cola from August 1968 to May 1991, as part of the economic boycott of Israel.[76]

Along with McDonald's, Coca-Cola has become an international symbol of American culture, and especially of American consumerism. While the company still enjoys widespread popularity, some backlash has occurred, mostly in the form of boycotts in the Middle East. One such instance in 2000 saw a claim that the Coca-Cola label, created in 1886, actually contained hidden anti-Islamic phrases [77][78] in its mirror image in Arabic. The Coca-Cola Company claimed sales dropped 10 to 15% in Egypt after the rumor began spreading in 2000. The controversy became so widespread that the Grand Mufti of Egypt — who has proudly admitted in related interviews that he himself indulges in at least one Coke daily — publicly addressed it, declaring that the logo "does not injure Islam or Muslims."[77]

In the early 20th century, a fatwa was created in Egypt to discuss the question of "whether Muslims were permitted to drink Coca-cola and Pepsi-cola." [79]

The fatwa states: "According to the Muslim Hanefite, Shafi'ite, etc., imams the rule in Islamic law of forbidding or allowing foods and beverages is based on the presumption that such things are permitted unless it can be show that they are forbidden on the basis of the Qur'an." [79] Taking a stance of innocent until proven guilty, The Muslim jurists state that unless the Qu'ran specifies on the consumption of a particular product, it is permissible to eat. That being said, another clause was discussed in which case, if a person is unaware of the condition or ingredients of the item in question, the same rules apply.

The fatwa goes as far as to report findings of an analysis on the Coca-cola and Pepsi-cola drinks, which show no narcotic or alcoholic substances or pepsin, proving the beverage safe to drink in accordance with the laws of Islam

For the consumption of the products to be an issue of Egyptian law that the Mufti had to create a fatwa to ease the minds of the general populace, indicates the popularity and controversy of the new beverage and its dispersion around the globe.

In Autumn 2002, a French Tunisian, Tawfiq Mathlouthi, launched a new brand of cola drink, dubbed Mecca-Cola, to protest American foreign policy in the Middle East. Mecca Cola was marketed as a way to combat "America's imperialism … by providing a substitute for American goods and increasing the blockade of countries boycotting American goods."[80] By 2004, Mecca-Cola fizzled: in France, its biggest market, sales dropped about 10%.[81]

2010 Polish election campaign[edit]

During Polish presidential election campaign 2010 two DJs of Radio Eska Rock, Kuba Wojewódzki and Michał Figurski, recorded a hip-hop song parodying the political usage of funerals of victims of the 2010 Polish Air Force Tu-154 crash. The song's most attacked verse referred to burying the dead president among Polish kings at the Wawel castle hill. The authors also parodied the "I love Poland"-style of nationalistic politicians. Refrain criticized the dog-eat-dog approach of political usage of mourning and country-wide grief. The song quickly spread over social networks.[82]

Coca-Cola responded to the appeals of Polish nationalist activists and announced that its logo will be removed from Eska Rock Internet appearance.[83]

Defense of Marriage Act[edit]

In April 2011, the law firm King & Spalding, of which Coca-Cola is a client, dropped the case of defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court on behalf of the United States House of Representatives. It was reported that Coca-Cola had directly intervened to pressure the firm to drop the case, a move that brought heavy criticism upon the firm.[84] Coca-Cola refused to comment.[84]

Proposed Bolivian ban[edit]

David Choquehuanca, Bolivia's foreign minister, discussed Coca-Cola in a speech in Copacabana, a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca on July 13, 2012. In the course of inviting indigenous leaders from throughout the hemisphere to visit his country on December 21, 2012, coinciding with the conclusion of the 13th baktun of the Mayan calendar and the 2012 phenomenon, Choquehuanca said that the date should mark the end of American-style capitalism in Bolivia and the beginning of a culture of community-based living through an ideology of communitarianism.[85] He continued, "The end of selfishness, of divisions is on Dec. 21, 2012. The end of Coca-Cola must come on Dec. 21 and the start of the mocochinchi."[86] Numerous media outlets published stories in the days that followed claiming that the Bolivian government was contemplating or taking steps to ban Coca-Cola products within its national borders by December 21, 2012.[87] However, the Foreign Ministry clarified, "The foreign minister's statements were decontextualized and there is nothing official."[86] Coca-Cola continues to operate normally in the country.[88]

Discontinuation of Surge[edit]

In 1996, Coca-Cola began production of a fully loaded citrus soda called Surge that was set to compete with Pepsi's Mountain Dew. Sales were very high during the first few years of release, but began to slip. This led to the discontinuation of Surge soda in 2003. This was due to many reasons including the fact that schools had banned it and parents didn't buy it for their kids because it was touted as having too much caffeine and sugar.

Coca-cola and Catalan language[edit]

In the Catalan-speaking region, the company has stirred up a great deal of controversy for its refusal to print its labels in Catalan, despite doing so in all the other European languages of similar magnitudes. To stand up for consumer rights, on 12 December 1993, the Platform for the Catalan Language (Plataforma per la Llengua)managed to make a world record by bringing together more than 15,000 empty Coca-Cola cans in Barcelona’s central square Plaça de Catalunya and using them to build a giant sign that read "Let’s label in Catalan". At the time, the organisation adopted the motto: "The Coca-Cola label in 135 languages around the world, but not in Catalan?" to underscore the multinational beverage’s differential treatment of the Catalan language in relation to its treatment of the other languages of the European Union and other traditionally democratic countries.In 2010, even after the Catalan Parliament’s approval of the Catalan Consumer Code, which acknowledged the consumers’ right to receive labels in Catalan, the company still failed to print its labels in Catalan.


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External links[edit]