New Internationalist

Belching Out the Devil

Issue 418

by Mark Thomas

There is a company which manufactures and distributes concentrated sugary syrup and the way it conducts its affairs is the subject of Mark Thomas’ enormously readable book. As Thomas explains, Coca-Cola does relatively little bottling of its product, preferring to outsource this to a vast network of franchisees. Of course, Coca-Cola owns or part-owns some of these companies and dictates production methods, and marketing, using its vast advertising budget to lodge its ‘brand image’ in the head of just about every individual on the planet. This business model, as well as being highly profitable for Coca-Cola, means that it can – and does – claim that it has no legal or ethical responsibility for its franchisees’ actions even when these result in pollution, illegality, and damage to communities.

Mark Thomas has clocked up the air-miles to hear the stories of the people Coke’s publicity airbrushes out of its story. He listens to Indians, whose aquifers have been severely depleted by the Coke plant’s extraction of millions of litres of water; to Colombian trade unionists threatened by paramilitary death squads. In Mexico City, he tracks down Raquel Chavez, a small shopkeeper who successfully challenged Coke’s mafia-like tactics in forcing out rival brands. In El Salvador he obtains evidence of child labour in the fields surrounding the sugar mill, and in Turkey he hears how Coke used the police to bust unions.

Coca-Cola’s response to Thomas was couched in lawyerly evasions and corporate double-speak, graphically illustrating big business’s ability to omit from their actual and moral balance-sheets the environmental and social damage they leave in their wake. Read this book, and then think about how little not buying and drinking that bottle of Coke would impact on your life.

PW

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