Coca-Cola has gone to great lengths to seem socially responsible, but is it really? If you care about your health, the environment and human rights, here are five reasons to stop sipping that soda.
1. Coca-Cola Believes in Marriage Equality (Except When it Doesn’t)
Coca-Cola is running a new ad campaign in Europe called “Reasons to Believe” which in the UK version features two men on their wedding day. However, what should have been a cheerful recognition of marriage equality soon soured when complaints started flooding social media that this vignette, one of several in the campaign attempting to show the positive sides of life, was not included in the Irish version of the ad. It does, however, appear in other European memberstates with the Dutch and Norway all getting a glimpse.
This, gay rights campaigners have pointed out, is disappointing given that Ireland has yet to legalize same-sex marriage and that this was a significant topic in 2013 and could have helped keep momentum for the marriage equality movement rolling.
What has Coca-Cola said for itself? Ireland doesn’t have gay marriage so apparently this wouldn’t “reflect” Ireland:
“The core objective is that the vignettes in the ad resonate with people in each country and that they are truly representative of cultural issues that they are familiar with and value,” the spokesperson said. “You will note for example that the St. Patrick’s Day scene is only included in the Irish version as it is only here that it is truly relevant from a cultural perspective. As you rightly say, the wedding images used in the ad for the UK and in other parts of Europe show two men getting married. The reason that this was changed for Ireland is that while civil partnership for gay people is legal, gay marriage currently is not. This will be the subject of a referendum [in 2015].”
So, with the marriage equality snub, Coca-Cola appears to be saying there’s no reason to believe Irish people “value” same-sex marriage, something we know is not true given that about 75% of Irish people surveyed last year said they would back civil marriage.
2. Coca-Cola Keeps Quiet on Russia’s Anti-Gay Human Rights Crackdown
As you may be aware, Coca-Cola is a sponsor for the Sochi Winter Olympics and Paralympics this year. The Games, which will be held in February, have received a great deal of attention because last year Russia saw fit to pass a number of pieces of legislation that rolled back human rights in the country, most infamous among them being the so-called gay propaganda ban.
Coca-Cola could have used its position as sponsor to tell Russia in no uncertain terms that this is not acceptable. Instead, while pointing out its commitments to diversity within the company, the brand has decided to keep largely silent about the issue.
3. When it Comes to Health Concerns, Coca-Cola Glosses Over the Facts
Recently, Coca-Cola has been trying to rehabilitate aspartame, the sugar replacement it uses in many of its products. It points out that research conducted so far has been unable to definitively support claims that aspartame is cancer-causing. It also has gone to great lengths, including taking out print ads, to say that aspartame poses no risk to our health.
This is technically true. There is no unequivocal evidence to suggest aspartame does directly cause any major health problems. There is a wide body of evidence, however, to suggest drinking soda contributes to obesity, toward diabetes rates, some cancers and more. How does Coca-Cola deal with these concerns? It supports sports initiatives and stresses that Coca-Cola should be part of a balanced diet. Critics charge this answer is not enough.
4. Coca-Cola Doesn’t Sponsor Rodeos Where Animals Get Hurt, Yet the Brand Appears at These Events
On the face of it, Coca-Cola looks like it has a robust animal welfare policy:
Before any part of the system sponsors events or attractions that feature animals, the event organizers and/or attraction management must have policies and procedures in place to support the humane treatment of animals and provide ready access to quality veterinary care to protect animal health and safety. This requirement must be included in the system’s sponsorship contracts for events and attractions featuring animals.
The Company’s trademarks must not be used to promote an event or an attraction that violates local, state or national laws or is contrary to the Company’s policy and guidelines.
Coca-Cola also has made a commitment against animal testing and animal cruelty, something that has earned it praise from animal rights groups. These are all good things.
However, a number of critics, in particular SHARK, have raised concerns that there is photographic and video evidence of Coca-Cola’s brand appearing at rodeo events where animals have been and are harmed.
Coca-Cola officially stopped sponsoring said events at the turn of the century, but contends that while it would like the companies it deals with to follow its strict policies, bottling companies who serve franchise populations aren’t always operating within those bounds.
In this case, the Swire Coca-Cola bottling company appears to be the franchise that is supporting these events. Coca-Cola, of course, still takes the profits from said advertising.
5. Coca-Cola Fought Heavily Against GMO Labeling. Why?
Last year, Coca-Cola contributed a hefty $1.7 million to defeating a measure in California that would have required the company to disclose on product labeling if a product contains GMOs. It has previously fought similar campaigns in Washington, and other states. One doesn’t need to buy into the anti-GMO arguments to find issue with this.
When the company has confronted criticism over the obesity epidemic on grounds that people have a free choice what they drink or eat, it seems more than a little questionable why Coca-Cola would want to compromise the buying public’s informed decision making by shielding that its products contain GMOs. If GMOs are safe, the review processes robust and the products better off for containing such ingredients, then food manufacturing companies should label them as containing GMOs and let the public make their choice.
Indeed, if companies like Coca-Cola, Kraft and Monsanto weren’t going to such great lengths to fight GMO labeling, we might be able to have an open discussion about GMOs without the hysterics on both sides.
So there we have it: five reasons why the next time you need a refreshment, you might want to think again about drinking that soda.