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Buying Respectability: Coca-Cola & the Co-opting of the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement

New Report by Corporate Campaign, Inc. Challenges Coke

In a report issued today, Corporate Campaign, Inc. (CCI) charges that, "The case of Coca-Cola, is a prime example of how the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement has been co-opted by the very corporations whose harmful policies and practices the movement is trying to monitor and reform." The report, an open letter to the Calvert Group and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), makes public CCI's response to their designation of Coca-Cola as "socially responsible," with detailed documentation of Coca-Cola's human rights, child welfare, and environmental abuses spanning decades and continuing today.

New York, NY (PRWEB) April 21, 2014

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A 31- page open letter/report released today by Corporate Campaign, Inc.(CCI) responds to the decision by Calvert Group and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to promote Coca-Cola as a "socially responsible" company based on standards that include protecting and advancing labor and human rights, child welfare and environmental sustainability.

CCI's report counters by documenting its charges of Coca-Cola's ongoing violations in those very areas, while also showing that "...a flawed and compromised methodology (1) allows Coca-Cola undue influence over the CSR process, permitting Coke to act with impunity around the globe," charges Ray Rogers, director, CCI.

Killer Coke

Binghampton Univ., SUNY Students Protest Coke

"The facts and events in Colombia, Guatemala, India and the U.S., for example, evidenced in documentary films, independent reports, investigations, acclaimed books(2),(3),(4),(5), lawsuits and public demonstrations, all cited in our report, prove otherwise," Rogers says. "For too long, the evidence has been drowned out by the vast marketing power of Coca-Cola."

The report details how and why Coke is accused of having stymied independent investigations(6) into allegations of the company's complicity in labor and human rights abuses in Colombia including widely publicized charges of murder and other violence against union leaders, 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(8) 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(10),(11), among others(12).

Noted human rights attorney and advocate, Terry Collingsworth commented, "Unfortunately, the systems of justice in Colombia and Guatemala(13) are highly compromised, and trade unionists and other families of murder victims rarely see justice. Many can wait decades for their day in court(14) , if they get there at all. And the violence continues." (15)(16)

"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." — Ray Rogers

In India Coca-Cola has been forced to shut down plants for depleting scarce water resources leaving insufficient water for sanitation, drinking and irrigation for farms, according to studies by the Ministry of Water Resources of India resulting in extreme economic hardship, ecological imbalance, and farmer suicides. The company continues to fight a 2010 compensation claim by the Kerala government of $47 million. In December, the company was ordered to shutdown operations at production facilities in Mehdiganj on land that the company has been found by local government officials to be occupying illegally.

And here at home, despite being hit with the largest racial discrimination settlement in U.S. history totaling $192.5 million in 2001, Coca-Cola continues to be plagued by charges of racial discrimination by Black and Latino workers in Coca-Cola's New York factories. U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of NY( Brooklyn) 1:12-CV-00234

"Coca-Cola claims that it won't and doesn't market to children 12 and under, says Ray Rogers, "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." Jennifer Harris, of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, whose research on Coca-Cola is detailed in the report, confirmed in May 2013..."children younger than 12 were exposed to more advertising for Coke than for any other brand, even child-targeted products." In February '14, Coke ran a $6 million one minute "Going All the Way" ad during the Super Bowl, directed at children and starring a child, Adrian, who celebrates a moment of happiness and accomplishment when a groundskeeper hands him an ice-cold Coca-Cola-"Hey Kid, Here!," "Open Happiness."

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(17) that ranked Coca-Cola #11 in tax avoidance among U.S. multinational companies stashing $13.9 billion in cash in offshore accounts. Levin said, "At a time when we face such difficult budget choices and when American families are facing a tax increase and cuts in critical programs from education to health care to food inspections to national defense, these offshore schemes are unacceptable.

"Coke's millions in philanthropy pales in contrast to billions of dollars in tax avoidance and evasion,"(18) says Rogers. "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."(19)

"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.

About Ray Rogers:

Ray Rogers, a noted advocate for labor and human rights, is President and Director of Corporate Campaign, Inc. and founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. Corporate Campaign was founded in 1981. Rogers pioneered the strategy of the corporate campaign that has been used with success by labor unions, human rights advocates and environmental groups in their battles against corporations.

Time magazine said, "Rogers has brought some of the most powerful corporations to their knees and his ideas are spreading." Boston Herald described Rogers as labor's most innovative strategist and "one of the most successful union organizers since the CIO sit-down strikes of the 1930s." Business Week described Rogers as a "legendary union activist." Financial Times called Rogers "The Coca-Cola Company's fiercest foe.
For more information or for speaking engagements call Pat Clark at 718-852-2808 or email

About Corporate Campaign Inc. (CCI)

New York City-based Corporate Campaign Inc. (CCI), founded in 1981, has successfully championed labor, human rights and environmental causes using its unique power analysis, innovative strategies and organizational tactics to increase economic and political pressure on companies, their top executives, board members, shareholders and creditors to hold them accountable and make them behave more responsibly, including against major banks, insurance companies and corporations, such as J.P. Stevens & Co., Metropolitan Life, New York Life, Con Edison, Geo. A. Hormel & Co., International Paper Co., American Airlines, Campbell Soup Co., Reynolds American, TIAA-CREF and The Coca- Cola Co. For more information call 718-852-2808 or email or go to

About Campaign to Stop Killer Coke:

The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke launched in 2003, is a worldwide movement with thousands of volunteers seeking to hold The Coca-Cola System, including the company and its bottlers, accountable for harmful practices that dangerously impact on the lives of workers, the environment and the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information call 718 852-2808 or go to


(1)     Browne, John, and Robin Nuttall. "Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility: Integrated External Engagement" Mar. 2013. Article.

(2)     Book Review: "Belching Out the Devil," Mark Thomas. Washington Post, 12 July 2009.

(3)     Thomas, Mark. "Belching out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola," New York: Nation, 2009. Print.

(4)     Blanding, Michael. "The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink.", 2012

(5)     Lohan, Tara. "The Coke Machine: New Book Reveals the Dirty Truth Behind Coca-Cola." The Huffington Post., 20 Oct. 2010.

(6)     "Coca-Cola Contracts Fizzle at University of Michigan,", 6 Jan. 2006. Web.

(7)     "The Coca-Cola Case," Dir. Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez. 2010. Web.

(8)     Johnson, Eric Michael. "Coca-Cola Co. Denies Involvement in Murder and Rape, Blames "U.S. Judicial System" The Huffington Post., 11 Mar. 2010.

(9)     Gatehouse, Mike, and Miguel Angel Reyes. "Soft Drinks, Hard Labour," London, UK: Latin American Bureau, 1987. Web.

(10)     Human Rights Watch World Report 1992"
"A member of the Presidential High Command has been detained and charged with the July 1989 murder of José Rolando Pantaleón, a Coca Cola union activist and a member of the union's now-disbanded political theater group.89 The lack of enthusiasm with which Guatemala's civilian leaders have viewed the notion of seeking redress for the horrendous human rights abuses committed during the decades of military rule was best expressed by Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, the former president, who in 1985 said, "We are not going to be able to investigate the past. We would have to put the entire army in jail."90 Nonetheless, grass roots pressure from relatives of the victims of thousands of disappearances produced some results..."

(11)     Vivanco, Jose Miguel. "Colombia: Ensure Justice for Anti-Union Violence," 2 Oct. 2011.
"Our research has found severe shortcomings in both the scope of the sub-unit's work and the investigative methodology that it employs. In terms of the scope, we found that:

  • The increase in the number of convictions since the sub-unit's creation, while substantial, represents only a small fraction of the total number of cases of trade unionist killings that still need to be investigated and prosecuted.
  • The increase in convictions is largely due to confessions provided by paramilitaries under the Justice and Peace process, which does not apply to cases of killings committed after 2006.
  • The sub-unit has made virtually no progress in obtaining convictions for killings from the past four-and-a-half years.
  • The sub-unit has made virtually no progress in prosecuting people who order, pay, instigate or collude with paramilitaries in attacking trade unionists."

"In terms of the methodology of the investigations, we found that:

  • The sub-unit has routinely failed to thoroughly investigate the motives for the crimes.
  • The sub-unit has not conducted the type of systematic and contextualized investigations that are necessary to identify and prosecute all responsible parties."

(12)     Harris, Rob, and Tovin Lapan. "Colombia: The Coca-Cola Controversy," Frontline World., Spring 2006. Web.
Rob Harris and Tovin Lapan traveled to Colombia in August 2005 to investigate charges that the Coca-Cola Company was involved in the violent repression of a union at several of its bottling plants. The soft drink company strenuously denies the allegations of union-busting and murder of union leaders. But there is growing pressure on the Atlanta, Georgia-based multinational from shareholders and U.S. colleges boycotting Coke to approve a full-scale, independent investigation of the charges. Harris and Lapan journeyed through a country rent asunder by political violence, managing to interview all the parties involved in the Coke controversy.

(13)     McWilliams, Jeremiah. "Coca-Cola Faces New Violence Claims in Guatemala," Atlanta Journal Constitution, 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

(14)     Harris, Rob, and Tovin Lapan. "Colombia: The Coca-Cola Controversy" Frontline World., Spring 2006. Web

(15)     "Coca-Cola Hit with New Charges of Murder, Rape, Torture," 1 Mar. 2010.
"This case has been brought in New York State because plaintiffs and other victims of human rights abuses lack access to an independent and functioning legal system within Guatemala, a country with a corrupt judiciary which has been undermined by the intimidation and murder of witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers and judges."

(16)     Human Rights Watch World Report Colombia and Guatamala

(17)     Winter, Greg. "COCA-COLA SETTLES RACIAL BIAS CASE," The New York Times, 16 Nov. 2000.

(19)     U.S. Senate. Carl Levin, U.S. Senator, Michigan. "Subcommittee Hearing to Examine Billions of Dollars in U.S. Tax Avoidance by Multinational Corporations" — See More At: by Multinational. Sept. 20, 2012.

(20)     Ibid.

(21)     Ibid.