The New New Coke

Coke’s come up with yet another formula, but this time it’s doing away with an old one. Don’t worry, it’s not Coke Three or Coke Absolute Zero, but the Coca-Cola Global Community Connections. The company is reconfiguring its philanthropic activities and doing away with its corporate external affairs department. From my perspective, the news is good. I’ve felt for some time that Coca-Cola was more of a marketing company than anything else, even operating at a detriment to society (think developing nations) for profits and market share. Rumor even has it that in one developing country, Coca-Cola “hijacked” a local water source to supply its plant leaving the area’s population with no access to clean water. Say it ain’t so!

Coke’s new Global Community Connections department will focus on three nonprofit areas: water cleanliness and supply, recycling with an emphasis on sustainable packaging and fitness. I’m impressed. The company’s old areas of focus were education and diversity. Important issues, to be sure, but not particularly aligned with the issues related to the company’s business. According to Ingrid Saunders Jones, the former external affairs head and longtime charitable face of Coca-Cola, “Whereas, Corporate External Affairs had a primary focus in North America, GCC will leverage the Company’s corporate and local resources, on a global scale, to support the six operating groups”. Global reach for a global corporation. I like where this is headed, especially because for so long, companies gave in the countries with the power to fight back while violating moral and ethical standards abroad, in poor nations with no infrastructure but very cheap labor. Hopefully Coca-Cola’s move is the beginning of a new trend.

Dennis Young, Georgia State University’s director of the nonprofit studies program, said Coca-Cola’s philanthropic reorganization follows what other large public companies have done — closely aligning their nonprofit work with the for-profit company’s main business.

“Companies have found it really works,” he said. “They’re thinking about that whole area less as gift-giving and more like a partnership. It’s an effective corporate strategy.”

This quote is the key. Companies need to start thinking of themselves as part of a process and not an occasional attendant when the situation calls for it. Companies can no longer just peak their figurative heads into a society to see what’s up, and donate some money to abate fears or to fund a pet cause.

Coca-Cola’s new initiative will take through 2008 to implement, but the result should be more a concentrated and effective use of charitable dollars. This new strategy should be net positive for the company and the planet. Of course the effort is nowhere near what’s needed from a global corporate citizen but it’s a start. I hope this type of effort will help get us to a new form of capitalism the world can not survive without. Giving fits inherently into the category of “give a man a fish and he can eat for a day”. Financing for-profit social entrepreneurship, and aligning these ventures with a company’s core business, is the only way to raise bar across the global. Only then will we have taught a man to fish, hopefully only figuratively for the planet’s sake.

7 comments

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  2. Aditi Roy Ghatak

    Say it ain’t so????

    Kerala is a state in South India where the battle between the multi national cola giant, Coca Cola and the local people has reached a peak in recent times. So here’s an account of what has been happening:

    The Coke unit in Kerala was established by Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd in 1988-89 at Plachimada in the Palakkad district of Kerala. It employs about 70 permanent and 150-250 casual labourers. The region is populated mainly by Adivasis (an Indian term for tribal or indigenous people, if translated loosely) and Dalits (those who were formerly known as ‘Untouchables’).

    The Coke plant in Plachimada draws out 1.5 million litres of ground water a day from its 65 bore wells spread over 17 hectares. As a result, the ground water and the water in the wells nearby has depleted affecting the paddy crops grown by the local populace. The water has been so depleted that now even Coke has been forced to reduce its extraction to 800,000 litres per day. In a region where groundwater resources have always been plentiful, and agriculture is the main occupation, there is disaster looming. The quality of the water from nearby wells has also deteriorated rapidly. The water now turns milky upon boiling and is almost undrinkable.

    Worse, the effluents released from the plant have begun to contaminate not just the ground water but also nearby barrages and reservoirs like the Moolathara barrage and the Meenkara dam reservoir. The sludgy slurry waste that was produced was also sold to some of the farmers as fertilisers.

    The protests of the local populace against these activities have drawn the ire of the police and the local authorities. There have been numerous arrests of those protesting against Coke including those of women and children. The protests, now over a 100 days old are beginning to attract more and more adivasis and gain the attention of the national media in India.

    Both Coke and Pepsi are in deep trouble in India anyway. First, this week the Centre for Science and Environment declared that their tests on the products of Pepsi and Coke has revealed a high level of pesticides! Now, Indian newspapers are reporting that many big shops and restaurants are refusing to sell Coke or Pepsi. The irony of course is that in a country where the vast majority do not have access to drinking water, the media should be galvanised by the presence of these pesticides (a serious charge no doubt, but one that primarily affects the Indian middle class, who make up a very small segment of the Indian population).

    Protests against Coke have also been resonating from Varanasi, the holy city right in the heart of India. The plant has been accused of evading local taxes, (and has been found guilty of the same by a local court), of encroaching on common property belonging to the village of Mehdiganj and enjoying heavily subsidized electricity while polluting the nearby fields with its toxic waste. There have been protests against Coke in Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu and Thane in Maharashtra.

    To return to the issues surrounding the Plachimada protests, on June 9, 2002 the police cracked down on the indigenous people whose peaceful picketing outside the Coke factory had entered the 49th day. Police violently arrested 130 protestors, mostly indigenous peoples and including 30 women and 9 children and infants. Another big rally attended by nearly 2000 local people was held on April 22, 2002. Coke’s recent placatory gesture of supplying a truckload of water each day to the two worst affected villages hasn’t impressed the protestors. They say that Coke will have to pay for restoring the damaged groundwater aquifers and for long-term water supply to all the impacted villages.

    For more information on the ongoing struggle against Coke in India please check http://www.corpwatchindia.org. Also, some of the facts for this WU were taken from http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=32&ItemID=2316.

  3. Vihar Sheth

    Aditi, thanks for the information. You seem very educated on the subject; I’ll be sure to check out the websites you linked to. Thanks again.

    – Vihar Sheth

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  5. MR. Banks

    no damn websites have any information about Cokes activities and aims and objectives and overall what type of ownership it is..(E.G Soletrader, plc,ltd…etc) and any info about any of these.

  6. Pingback: Zija's Uncle Russ » Blog Archive » The New New Coke

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