A protest against Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of a ‘murder music’ festival in Jamaica has hit a dead end as the company has stopped negotiations with activists.
The group AIDS-Free World, as well as the veteran Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson, have been talking to them since ‘murder music’ was performed during the four day Coke Zero Live concert in Montego Bay, Jamaica in late April 2011.
‘Murder music’ promotes violence against LGBT people through its lyrics. It primarily comes from certain dancehall and reggae artists such as Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Sizzla and Capleton. There has been a campaign against it since the 1990s, which has won important victories.
At the Coke Zero Live event, Sizzla performed the notorious hate anthem ‘Boom Bye Bye‘ which literally calls for the murder of homosexuals (Here is the video; Sizzla performance begins at 13.55). Sizzla is unable to find performance venues in either the UK or USA because of his reputation. In 2004, he was among a group of artists who were being investigated by Scotland Yard for allegedly inciting murder of homosexuals through their lyrics.
Tomlinson says that there is at least one documented instance in Jamaica where ‘Boom Bye Bye’ was directly linked to the murder of a gay man.
AIDS-Free World has now written to Steve Bucherati, Coca-Cola’s Chief Diversity Officer, accusing them of engaging in a “protracted but unproductive written and phone communication.”
“It is inconceivable to us that you have utterly failed to respond to our efforts to focus your attention on Coca-Cola’s indefensible sponsorship decision,” they write.
“Our patience has run out.”
Bucherati had claimed, says Tomlinson, that the company’s local staff were are not aware of Sizzla’s global reputation for inciting the torture and execution of homosexuals. He also claimed to have submitted a letter of apology to regional Jamaican newspapers, which was never published.
Bucherati, says Tomlinson, promised to submit an article to all Jamaican newspapers once the sponsorship policy review was completed, apologizing for the Sizzla concert and announcing a new corporate policy.
“The Coca-Cola Company’s sponsorship of any murder music is inexplicable. Your subsequent failure to act immediately to ensure that Coca-Cola disavowed the sort of public frenzy of homophobia whipped up by Sizzla cannot be excused,” they say.
“Months ago, you assured us that Coca-Cola had suspended all concert sponsorships in Jamaica, and had in fact undertaken a worldwide review of its sponsorship policies in all of its global markets so as to avoid another incident like the Sizzla debacle. However, you failed to commit to a timeline for this alleged sponsorship policy review, and gave us no way to gauge the review’s progress, if any has been made.”
Coca-Cola, says the letter, “has the resources and capacity to initiate and complete projects with great speed, provided that it considers them important.”
In September, Coca Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, was honored at the Clinton Global Initiative for being among the first to join the 10-year-old Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (now known as GBC Health).
Says AIDS-Free World:
“Coca -Cola hasn’t just fallen short of the voluntary corporate social responsibility ideals to which the company has committed itself under the UN Global Compact; Coca-Cola’s actions have affirmatively produced damage … Until Coca-Cola takes the lead in denouncing homophobia, and takes decisive and public action in remedy, the public will be left with the impression that The Coca-Cola Company endorses violence, human rights violations, and homophobia.”
This is what Coca-Cola is being asked to do:
1. Publish a full-page advertisement in the Sunday edition of the three major Jamaican newspapers (the Jamaica Gleaner, the Jamaica Observer and the Sunday Herald) as well as a full-page advertisement in the Western Mirror denouncing Sizzla’s homophobic performance and expressing support for sexual diversity;
2. Issue a formal statement explaining that it will no longer sponsor artists who are known to have performed and refuse to apologize for homophobic songs;
3. Include a clause in all future sponsorship agreements prohibiting homophobic speech or actions against performers, and in the event of a breach, specifying sanctions, including a termination of the sponsorship arrangement; and
4. Sponsor a concert in Jamaica devoted entirely to artists who have not engaged in homophobic slurs, and that specific condition would be the centerpiece of the advertising for the concert.
Photo credit: Maurice