Watch how Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent refuses to answer a simple yes or no question on dangerous child labor posed by Ray Rogers at Coca-Cola's April 29, 2015 annual meeting of shareowners.
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Sparks fly as Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent looks foolish trying to muzzle Corporate Campaign, Inc./Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Director Ray Rogers from raising issues regarding Coca-Cola work-related fatalities and profiting from illegal, dangerous child labor in sugar cane harvesting.
In 2004, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report criticizing Coca-Cola for benefiting from illegal hazardous child labor being used to harvest sugar cane for its sugar supplier in El Salvador. In November 2007, a nationally televised documentary on Channel 4 in the UK entitled, "Mark Thomas on Coca-Cola," aired film footage taken that same year showing that the conditions HRW reported on in 2004 hadn't changed. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has continued to keep the Coca-Cola/child labor issue alive since those exposes. What has Coke apparently done to try to save face on ignoring the child labor issue in its supply chain in El Salvador and beyond?
Coca-Cola recruited the head of Save the Children to write an article posted on Coca-Cola's website under the section dubbed the "Coca-Cola Journey." The article, dated June 12, 2013 and entitled "Save the Children: Engaging Business to Address Child Labor" by Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children, describes the magnitude and horrors of child labor. She very eloquently writes, "Many children work simply to eat, and child labor is much more common in poor countries and in poor households where a routine paycheck & due to chronic poverty or economic shocks like natural disasters or civil uncertainty & cannot be counted on... child labor can be mentally and physically dangerous." (Nowhere is there a mention of another prevailing cause & brutal exploitation by multinational corporations like Coca-Cola that have been benefiting from child labor for decades. Many of these same multinationals continue to profit from aggressively marketing unhealthy products to children and youth.).
Ms. Miles then explains how Save the Children works toward the long-term goal of eliminating child labor altogether and how the organization works with three key partners: the child, the child's family, and the community. "Praise God almighty!" as some would say. Ms. Miles adds, "there is another partner in this effort...the private sector...Business partners are now taking the lead in addressing child labor issues...the Coca-Cola Company...felt compelled to take action. In the framework of engaging the child, the family and the community, The Coca-Cola Company and Save the Children worked together to prevent child labor in Honduran sugar mills. By visiting schools and community organizations and promoting the issue through national media, the effort is raising awareness about the risks facing children in dangerous work environments..." I wonder what role did Coca-Cola's public relations specialists play in drafting Ms. Miles article?
But that's not all Coke's money bought.
In another article, "Did Soda Companies Buy Off a Charity Advocating a Soda Tax?: A case of perverted 'corporate responsibility' " that ran on December 17, 2010 in The Daily Green, Marion Nestle wrote:
Does corporate social responsibility pay off for corporations? Indeed it does. Corporate money buys silence, if nothing else.
William Neuman of The New York Times provides a perfect example of how corporate sponsorship gets precisely what it is intended to do.
In this particular case:
- The corporations are soda companies, Coke and Pepsi.
- The social responsibility is donations of millions of dollars to a good cause.
- The cause is Save the Children, a group devoted to child health and development projects internationally and domestically.
- The intention? Get Save the Children to stop advocating in favor of soda taxes.
Not long ago, Save the Children was a strong advocate for soda taxes. Now it is not. How come? The group's website explains:
"about a minute ago we said, Corporate donors support us but do not pressure us. Our focus is children not soda tax policy. Back to saving more children now."
The Times, however, suggests a different explanation:
"executives at Save the Children were seeking a major grant from Coca-Cola to help finance the health and education programs that the charity conducts here and abroad, including its work on childhood obesity. The talks with Coke are still going on. But the soda tax work has been stopped....In interviews this month, Carolyn Miles, chief operating officer of Save the Children, said there was no connection between the group's about-face on soda taxes and the discussions with Coke. A $5 million grant from PepsiCo also had no influence on the decision, she said. Both companies fiercely oppose soda taxes."
A mere coincidence? I don't think so. This is a clear win for soda companies, just as was Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the educational activities of the American Academy of Family Physicians. You can bet those activities do not involve telling parents not to give sodas to their kids.
IRS Form 990 lists compensation for the calendar year 2012 for Carolyn Miles as $403,857 from Save the Children and other compensation of $40,887 from Save the Children and related organizations. It should also be noted that Save the Children board member Susan Decker is on the board of Berkshire Hathaway.
Under the "Nutrition and Obesity" section Calvert's analysis states, "In May of 2013 the company announced important commitments to combat global obesity... not market to children under twelve worldwide... has also done a better job than many of its competitors on responsible marketing to children." This is complete hogwash and I don't say this just because, Advertising Age, on May 8, 2013, reported, "Coca-Cola in a statement said it is taking a four-pronged approach to fight obesity, the most dramatic being a pledge to stop advertising to children under 12 anywhere. However, a Wall Street Journal report on the news described the move as not a complete elimination but as a reduction in kids' advertising, stating that 'Coca-Cola now plans to only advertise to audiences where no more than 35% of viewers are children, similar to what it does in the U.S.' " This company will never really curtail its aggressive efforts to market its sugary beverages to anybody, including children.
For Coca-Cola to state that "they're not marketing [to kids] is pretty insulting to anyone with a brain" according to one respondent to an article entitled, "If Coca-Cola Doesn't Market to Kids, Why Do They Sell Toys?", published March 6, 2012 by Yoni Freedhoff, MD, Canadian obesity expert, founder of Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa. Freedhoff was berating Coca-Cola's deceptive practices and outright lies with respect to marketing to children. In his article, Freedhoff took issue with a response by Kevin Morris, Coca-Cola's vice president of Public Affairs and Communications to a Chicago Tribune article by Julie Deardorff. Morris wrote, "Coca-Cola does not market our beverage brands in venues where children are the primary audience. Coke has adhered to this policy for more than 50 years, and it extends to youth sporting events and clubs."
Dr. Freedhoff counters, "That argument, that Coca-Cola is an upstanding corporate citizen that would never, ever, target kids is one I've covered before, where thanks to the magic of YouTube, I was able to quickly pull out 16 different Coca-Cola commercials that in my mind at least, dispute Kevin and Coca-Cola's self-righteous claims of innocence. I also blogged about Coca-Cola's recent 'Great Happification' campaign, which if it isn't designed to target kids, then I guess bikini-clad beer commercials also aren't designed to target men."
Dr. Freedhoff then asks, "Kevin, what do you think went on with the 2011 Vienna City Marathon literally entitled, 'Coca-Cola Kids Challenge' a sporting event where the sole criterion for entry was being younger than 10 years old?" An accompanying photo shows a child running on a track lined with big Coca-Cola signs. A parent from a small USA town comments: "The youth baseball field proudly displays a Coca-Cola scoreboard. My sons started playing there when they were 5 years old. According to Mr. Morris I guess they were just targeting the parents and relatives."
Dr. Freedhoff poses another question: "If Coca-Cola doesn't market to kids, why does Coca-Cola sell toys? Looking at Amazon.com's online Toys and Games category there are 719 different Coca-Cola branded toys, including dolls with packaging that clearly states they're for kids aged 3+, 100 piece puzzles aimed at the more sophisticated 5+ crowd, Barbies, stuffed animals, toy cars and more. Don't branded toys count as marketing? It's shameful Kevin. Not the fact that your company makes a profit by selling various products, that's the American way, but rather what's shameful is what seems, at least on the surface, as a bald faced lie that Coca-Cola doesn't specifically hold children squarely in their marketing cross hairs."
If you visited Coca-Cola's website during the holiday season, you might find "10 Stocking Stuffers Under $10," which include a Coca-Cola emblazoned "Coin Collector" that Coke says, "will add to any tabletop or shelf, and because it has actual rolling wheels, the bank doubles as a toy. Not recommended for children under age 4." Among the stocking stuffers is also the Coca-Cola emblazoned "Whimsical Wheelie" toy truck and "Holiday Bear Hug", and a 6-inch stuffed polar bear wearing a red Coca-Cola Santa hat. "The little guy," Coke says, "has a red disk with the Coca-Cola script logo appliqued on his right hip and is available for snuggling with anyone ages 3 and up."
Coca-Cola is also highlighted in a November 21, 2013 press release issued by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood announcing the 2013 Toady (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young children) Award nominees for Worst Toy of the Year. One of the five finalists is Monopoly Empire recommended for ages 8 and up. Instead of buying properties, players buy brands, including Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola's hypocrisy and attempted deception with respect to children's well-being is further evident on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) "healthychildren.org" website. There Coca-Cola posts its "LIVE POSITIVELY Coca-Cola" ad, which is totally inappropriate and disgusting. Shame on Coca-Cola and shame on the irresponsible, money grubbing AAP whose tagline "DEDICATED TO THE HEALTH OF ALL CHILDREN" which accompanies its logo would be more appropriate if it read "DEDICATED TO PROFIT, CHILDREN BE DAMNED."
Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., M.B.A. at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University wrote an article for the May 10, 2013 issue of Psychology Today entitled: "Kids Under the Influence: The psychology behind marketing to young consumers." Dr. Harris reported: "The Yale Rudd Center's Sugary Drink FACTS report, a comprehensive analysis of sugary drink marketing to youth, documents the broad range of nontraditional marketing tactics the brand uses to reach young people. Coke ranked sixth in amount of traditional TV advertising to youth, but children and teens were exposed to more advertising for Coke than any other brand in every other type of marketing we measured: social media, product placements on TV, food company websites, advertising on other websites, mobile apps and other ads, and radio. As a result, even children younger than 12 were exposed to more advertising for Coke than for any other brand, even child-targeted products such as Capri Sun and Kool-Aid."
Dr. Harris was also critical of the city of Chicago for accepting Coca-Cola's "donation" of $2.6 million to provide recycling bins "for every house and small apartment building in Chicago, in return for images of Coke products on the bins." Huffington Post's Anna Lappe notes, "those recycling bins will sit in the same alleys that serve as playgrounds for Chicago's youth, especially those who live in neighborhoods without adequate public spaces." Perhaps former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who sits on The Coca-Cola Company's board of directors, came up with this idea to "advertise/not advertise" to children.
Coca-Cola ran a one-minute, $6 million ad on television during the Super Bowl on February 2, 2014. Its targeted audience clearly was children and youth. The ad began with a football coach sending Adrian, a child, into the game. The star of the ad was Adrian who picks up a fumble and is seen running toward the end zone. He scores the touchdown, but keeps on running to Lambeau Field (the home of the Green Bay Packers, an NFL professional football team). When Adrian fantasizes about scoring a touchdown at Lambeau Field, a groundskeeper hands him a Coke and says to Adrian: "Hey, Kid. Here!" followed by the image of three Coke bottles and Coke's "Open Happiness" slogan. This is clearly an attempt to imitate the famous 1979 Coke ad with Mean Joe Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers which also involved a child.
Mexico has the largest per capita consumption of Coca-Cola beverages of any country in the world. Per capita consumption of eight-ounce servings rose from 486 servings in 2002 to 745 servings in 2012. This compares to 2012 per capita consumption in the U.S. of 401 servings, India (14 servings), Nigeria (26 servings) and China (39 servings). To the chagrin of Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola FEMSA, Mexico added a new tax on soda and other high-calorie junk foods by 8-10 percent that took effect on January 1, 2014. Sugar-sweetened drinks are taxed one peso per liter.
Despite Coca-Cola's statement that it would not advertise to children under 12, the company created advertisements that use Superheroes & children dressed as Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, etc.-- in their ads. Because of this, Alejandro Calvillo Unna, Director General of El Poder del Consumidor, a national consumer movement, sent a letter on May 9, 2012 to Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization protesting these ad campaigns. In part the letter stated:
As you know, Mexico is one of the countries with the fastest growth in childhood overweight and obesity as well as diabetes, worldwide...
Even with the oath they [Coca-Cola] made publicly, we have observed that they are violating their own promises with the new [ad] campaign, Superheroes, which is being promoted heavily in Mexico . Our National Institute of Public Health has scientifically proven that the best way to get children to improve their eating habits to healthier choices is through superheroes, turning fruits and vegetables into superheroes. The Coca Cola Co....used children dressed as superheroes. The campaign uses children holding the product. It is clear that this company is leading the campaign to children through superheroes.
Coca-Cola continues to push mass consumption of its unhealthy soft drinks on Mexico's children and youth. Xaviera Cabada, Assistant General of El Poder del Consumidor, sent us a letter containing photos taken at a school and a summer camp that Coke organized for children. The photos showed a basketball court and red tents and banners emblazoned with the names and images of Coca-Cola. Ms. Cabada remarked, "Coke had said that they were not going to do any marketing propaganda to children under 12 & I guess Mexico is the exception."
Dr. Ann Lopez, author and envirnmental science professor at San Jose City College and director of the Center for Farmworker Familes Studies, commented, "The people of west central Mexico are easy corporate prey for predator Coke. You can't stand anywhere in some of the rural towns and not see a Coke ad.