Buying Respectability: Coca-Cola Co-Opts Corporate Social Responsibility Movement

Coca-Cola is co-opting the corporate social responsibility movement.

That’s according to Ray Rogers of the Corporate Campaign in New York City.

In an open letter to the Calvert Group and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Rogers challenges the groups’ designation of Coca-Cola as “socially responsible,” with detailed documentation of Coca-Cola’s human rights, child welfare, and environmental abuses spanning decades.

“For too long, the evidence has been drowned out by the vast marketing power of Coca-Cola,” Rogers said.

Coke is accused of quashing independent investigations into allegations of the company’s complicity in labor and human rights abuses featured in the award winning documentary, “The Coca-Cola Case” produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Coca-Cola is also accused of a long history of brutality against union leaders in Guatemala, dating back to 1976, documented in “Soft Drink Hard Labour” published by the Latin America Bureau in 1987 which describes the murder and disappearance of 12 Coke union leaders and activists.

The overwhelming legal obstacles to obtaining justice in Colombia and Guatemala are documented by Human Rights Watch among others.

“Unfortunately, the systems of justice in Colombia and Guatemala are highly compromised, and trade unionists and other families of murder victims rarely see justice,” said human rights attorney and advocate, Terry Collingsworth. “Many can wait decades for their day in court, if they get there at all. And the violence continues.”

“The scofflaw Coca-Cola Company is out of control and even its biggest cheerleaders and stockholders,Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, can’t hide the damage their company is doing on a worldwide scale,” Rogers said.

“Coca-Cola claims that it won’t and doesn’t market to children 12 and under, yet it continues to aggressively market its sugar and chemical-laden products to children worldwide, which are known to fuel the childhood obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure epidemics,” Rogers said.

In Mexico, which ranks at the top among countries with the highest childhood obesity and diabetes rates in the world, Coke uses children dressed as superheroes including Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman to hawk its products on TV.

Coca-Cola recently announced plans to invest another billion dollars primarily in worldwide soda advertising, further targeting millions of children.

In September 2012, U.S. Senator Carl Levin issued a report that ranked Coca-Cola number eleven in tax avoidance among U.S. multinational companies stashing $13.9 billion in cash in offshore accounts. Levin said,

“Coke’s millions in philanthropy pales in contrast to billions of dollars in tax avoidance and evasion,” Rogers said.. “Coca-Cola and its defenders boast about Coca-Cola’s charitable giving while the company, in countries like the U.S., Vietnam, Mexico, The Philippines and Greece, is under scrutiny and facing charges of massive tax avoidance and tax evasion.”

“Corporate money in the NGO world can be as undermining and compromising as corporate money in politics,” Rogers explains.

The report details how NGO’s like the American Academy of Pediatrics, Oxfam America, Save the Children and the World Wildlife Fund help the company promote an undeserved image of respectability, which helps shield Coca-Cola from accountability.

The report’s key theme critiques the metrics systems and reporting procedures that are supposed to shed light on a company’s adherence to social responsibility.

“Anyone who actually believes that these metrics systems, as they operate today, from the UN Global Compact to the Global Reporting Initiative, are anything but vehicles for companies like Coca-Cola to cover up their abuses and escape real accountability, probably believe in the tooth fairy” Rogers said.

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