I urge you to include the Coca-Cola Company among the list of companies you target for shareholder action.
As you know, Coca-Cola was removed from the Broad Market Social Index (BMSI) that led to the divestment of Coca-Cola stock from CREF’s Social Choice account. KLD’s action to remove Coca-Cola from the BMSI happened because of the mounting evidence that Coca-Cola operations on a global scale are involved in widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses.
For example, Coca-Cola and its bottlers in Colombia are defendants in two Alien Tort Claims lawsuits filed in July 2001 and June 2006. The lawsuits charge that the bottlers are involved in the systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders.
In India, Coca-Cola’s largest plant remains shut down and daily protests continue because of the overexploitation and pollution of water sources. This has caused great hardship and despair for many people and agricultural communities around Coke bottling plants throughout India. And recently, Coca-Cola has been banned from hundreds of schools and government agencies because of the high levels of pesticides in its beverages.
Coca-Cola is also being widely criticized for maximizing profits by exploiting children. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood points out that obesity is a serious and growing problem for children. Yet even as evidence mounts that soft drinks are contributing to childhood obesity and its attendant health problems, Coca-Cola continues to aggressively market their products to kids. Coca-Cola’s guidelines for marketing to children state, “The Coca-Cola Company and its local bottling partners do not aim or direct any marketing activity from any source to children under the age of 12,” but a quick glance at some of Coke’s marketing practices demonstrate this claim is simply not true. There are Coke toys such as checker sets and cars that are designed to introduce kids as young as two to the Coca-Cola brand. Coke’s product placement is ubiquitous on American Idol, the top-rated show for children ages 2-11. Coca-Cola also aggressively markets it products to children in schools.
The Coca-Cola Company has also undermined legislators, public health officials and concerned parents who have tried to improve children’s diets by removing sweetened beverages from our nation’s schools. In Indiana, Coca-Cola sent five lobbyists to defeat a bill that would have reduced soda sales in schools by fifty percent. In Oregon, Coca-Cola was a leading opponent of attempts to phase out the sale of junk food and sugar-laden soft drinks from public schools, and ultimately helped defeat the legislation. In Connecticut, Coca-Cola’s lobbyist was instrumental in getting Governor Jodi Rell to veto what would have been the nation’s strongest school-based nutrition law.
Coca-Cola is receiving bad publicity continuously in local and national media worldwide. In August, Business Week wrote that Coca-Cola, the most valued brand name in the world, lost about 1 percent of its value, which translates into more than a $525 million loss.
HispanicBusiness.com stated (9/1/06): “The string of woes has already taken some toll on Coke. Its shares have traded flat for the last year, and the value of the Coca-Cola brand slipped 1 percent in the last year, according to the most recent BusinessWeek/Interbrand Annual Ranking of the Top 100 Global Brands [see BusinessWeek.com, 8/7/06, ‘The World's Best Brands.].”
In England, Germany and Italy, protesters demonstrated against Coke’s sponsorship of the Olympics and the World Cup. Supporters carried banners and wore t-shirts to “Stop Killer Coke”. Currently there are 29 colleges and universities that have banned Coke products, including New York University, the largest private university in the U.S, and Rutgers University, one of the largest public universities in the U.S. Recently, DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the country, and Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York, and the UK’s Sussex University have removed and banned the further sale of Coke products on their campuses. There are campaigns at almost 200 colleges, universities and high schools, including four campuses in Germany whose student parliaments voted in July to wage campaigns to ban Coke from their campuses. In Berlin, the campaign could result in 14 campuses banning Coca-Cola.
In addition, some of the largest unions throughout the U.S. and Europe have banned Coke from their facilities and functions and have called on their members to boycott all Coke products. These unions include many teacher organizations, such as the 525,000-member New York State United Teachers and the California Federation of Teachers, which have thousands of members in TIAA-CREF. In addition, many human rights organizations and other groups have called for a boycott of Coke.
Similarly, following resolutions passed by the Society for Cultural Anthropology; the Society of Anthropology of North America (SANA), and the American Ethnological Society (AES) and other local anthropological groups, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), representing more than 10,000 members in colleges and universities, passed a resolution to support “the Colombian union SINALTRAINAL’s call for a boycott of The Coca-Cola Company and its products, and calls on its members to do the same…”
Over the past several years proxy resolutions focusing on human rights and environmental concerns have appeared on The Coca-Cola Company’s proxy statement sponsored by various individuals and institutions including the New York City Public Employees Retirement System, the Presbyterian Church USA and B. Wardlaw, a philanthropist and descendant and heir of one of the first large investors in Coke stock.
TIAA-CREF’s choosing Coca-Cola as one of the companies to place special emphasis on regarding corporate accountability issues would be a big boost to forcing this company to clean up its act. It’s the right thing for TIAA-CREF to do and it’s the smart thing to do to protect its investments.
TIAA-CREF should support any proxy resolution calling for a truly independent investigation into labor and human rights abuses at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia and elsewhere; and on its own should request that Coke facilitate such an investigation. Such an investigation should include legitimate human rights groups from within and outside Colombia. It should not be conducted by any group, organization, or institution, such as the United Nations or its International Labor Organization, that have any financial or personnel relationships with Coca-Cola. TIAA-CREF should ban the sale and promotion of all Coca-Cola products in its facilities and at its functions.
TIAA-CREF should also ask Coke to end all marketing aimed at children (including in-school marketing, product-placement, and Coke toys) and stop lobbying against policies that would improve children's diets. More than 40 distinguished healthcare professionals and advocates for children asked TIAA-CREF to remove The Coca-Cola Company from CREF's Social Choice Account.
TIAA-CREF should also ask that Coke no longer usurp for its own purposes water supplies in India and elsewhere where water is needed for its own citizens.
Campaign To Stop Killer Coke