Please see the statement below, presented at the PepsiCo annual shareholders’ meeting on May 6, 2020, by Dr. Yolandra Hancock on behalf of Harrington Investments.
Good morning CEO Laguarta, trustees, and shareholders. My name is Dr. Yolandra Hancock. I’m privileged today to represent Harrington Investments in introducing Proxy Item Number 5: a report on Sugar and Public Health. With a yes vote on this proposal, PepsiCo has an opportunity to be the first among its peers to both independently and authoritatively assess not just how the corporation’s sugar-laden products and their marketing effect global public health, especially among children, but how the corporation’s varied activities to further the sale of such products—from its political interference to its funding of junk science—are presenting significant risks to the corporation’s finances and reputation. It is even more glaring in the midst of this pandemic when 1 in 5 COVID-19 deaths is linked to diet-related diseases.
I’m here to speak to this critically-important resolution not just as a physician, but as a consumer who has had direct health impacts from drinking Pepsi. As a pediatrician, I have diagnosed children as young as 9 years-old with Type II diabetes. I diagnosed one little girl soon after she lost her father to diabetes. As she and her diabetic grandmother received the news, she pulled out a soda. I was first introduced to Pepsi by my grandmother as a 5 year-old little girl. It wasn’t until college, as a result of persistent leg cramps and excruciating migraines, that I realized that the soda I drank like water was depleting my body’s calcium and triggering these debilitating headaches. I struggled to kick the habit, with the draw to drink it sometimes overpowering the pain from its consumption. But eventually I did.
Today I serve children and families that have had greater difficulty breaking habits driven by PepsiCo’s targeted marketing to communities of color, such as those I serve in our nation’s capital. I also advocate for policies like the District’s Healthy Beverages Choices Act, which would allow communities to recoup a modest amount of the costs Pepsi and the soda industry have foisted on us. Instead of allowing us the agency to protect community health, PepsiCo’s trade association has instead created a front group to block the bill’s passage.
PepsiCo’s actions in the District are galling if not surprising, given PepsiCo’s continued support of groups globally like the International Life Sciences Institute, or ILSI, which stymie public health policy and traffic in junk science. Even the corporation’s competitor Nestle has parted ways with ILSI. And today tens of thousands of people are calling for PepsiCo to do the same.
This is to say, item number 5, this report, is the sober self-assessment the corporation and its stakeholders need now. PepsiCo may have profited at my expense. It may continue to profit at the expense of my patients and the community I serve for a time. But it cannot do so forever. Our health care systems, our communities, our children–especially as we recover from a pandemic–cannot abide it.
Shareholders can vote yes today to send the strong message that the corporation’s public health harms, all it does to perpetuate these harms, and the business risks that result cannot be swept under the rug any longer.