Shareholders demand action after new revelations about Coke’s political interference from China to the CDC
ATLANTA, GA—Today, at the corporation’s annual meeting, Coca-Cola executives were on the defensive about the soda giant’s global human rights abuses, labor abuses and the role of sugar in public health, going so far as to deny public health experts from Latin America from raising concerns on Coke’s political interference from the floor.
The meeting comes amidst a mounting list of PR liabilities for one of the world’s top marketers of sugar-laden beverages. A shareholder resolution filed by Harrington Investments and supported by a host of U.S. and Latin-American health and labor organizations, challenged the corporation on this public health impacts of sugar and its sugar products marketed to children and youth.
A recent study found that one in four Americans, with occurrences much higher among Latinos, is suffering from fatty liver disease: a condition closely linked to overconsumption of sugar and other sugar-rich junk food and beverages, like many of Coke’s products. And recent revelations about Coke’s decades-long influence over Chinese obesity policy and attempts to influence the World Health Organization (WHO) have cast a lingering shadow over the brand.
At the meeting, Dr. Esperanza Cerón-Villaquiran, the head of Colombia-based consumer advocacy group Educar Consumidores, who has experienced the soda industry’s personal and political intimidation first-hand, was denied three times an opportunity to speak at the meeting in support of the resolution, which demands reporting — with independent review — of how Coke’s sugar products and their marketing to children are damaging public health.
“What were executives afraid of hearing today?” said Esperanza Cerón-Villaquiran, executive director of Educar Consumidores. “They cannot hide behind a podium forever: Coke must stop interfering with policies our countries try to adopt to prevent the obesity epidemic — an epidemic that Coke’s products fuel. Otherwise Coca-cola will not be remembered as the spark of life, but as the spark of death.”
Coke’s sugary beverages fuel a diet-related disease epidemic. In the world’s largest soft drink market, people across Latin America have experienced some of the worst impacts of this epidemic — and of the soda industry’s lobbying.
“The Coca-Cola Company needs to cease its interference with real science and with countries’ own sovereign rights around the world to make their own health policies, free of conflict of interest,” said Rebecca Berner of El Poder del Consumidor. “Consumers are increasingly aware of the true cost of Coke’s sugary products and their association to the growing obesity and diet-related disease epidemics. It’s time the corporation discloses the real risk of its profit-driven business model to shareholders and the global public.”
Coke spends billions of dollars each year marketing its sugar-laden products, much of which is directed to children. It has also funded efforts to undermine nutrition policy making, and even attempted to manipulate and curry favor with officials and agencies from Ecuador to Bosnia.
In addition to its lobbying and kid-targeted marketing, Coke has also come under fire for misleading sugar labeling across Latin America. Jaime Delgado, author of the Law for the Promotion of Healthy Eating and coordinator of the Platform for Healthy Eating, maintains that Coca-Cola products across Latin America claim a lower “percentage of daily value” than U.S. products despite having nearly double the amount of sugar.
“This deceptive practice prompts Latin Americans to drink more sugar and to underestimate the grave health impacts of that consumption,” said Jaime Delgado. “Coca-Cola should tell the truth to Latin Americans.”
In the U.S., Coke has been on a spending spree to help elect industry-friendly politicians and to challenge a rising tide of public health laws aimed at stemming the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages. This is not to mention recent revelations of Coke’s outreach to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control in attempts to influence the WHO.
“It’s high time the soda giant recognize its caffeinated political interference not only has dire consequences for public health, but the long-term viability of its brand,” said Alexa Kaczmarski from Corporate Accountability. “Communities and countries don’t need a transnational soda corporation policing public health. Coke needs to put a lid on its politicking and can its kid-targeted marketing.”