Coke's New Buddy: Oxfam Helps Coca-Cola Reduce Poverty

By Marion Nestle

Why is an anti-hunger and anti-poverty organization helping Coke market its products in Africa and Latin America?

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I keep arguing that partnerships and alliances with food corporations put agriculture, food, nutrition, and public health advocacy groups in deep conflict of interest.

The latest example is Oxfam America's partnership with Coca-Cola and bottler SAB Miller to evaluate the effectiveness of these corporations in reducing poverty (again, you can't make these things up):

Despite the challenges involved, The Coca-Cola Company and SABMiller have each made ambitious and laudable commitments to labor rights, human rights, water, gender, and sustainability. However, there is little accountability to such commitments without the informed engagement of affected groups. By looking across all relevant issues (no cherry-picking) with an organization like Oxfam America and reporting out to stakeholders, these companies have opened themselves to heightened public scrutiny and hopefully increased accountability.

Hopefully, indeed.

The Oxfam Poverty Footprint Report describes the work Coca-Cola and SAB Miller are doing in Zambia and El Salvador to empower and promote sustainability. It highlights Coca-Cola's sustainability initiatives.

It does include some telling recommendations for follow-up. For example:

  • Engage sugar farmers and producers to improve safety and health of sugarcane harvesters.
  • Investigate why independent truck drivers in Zambia work more than eight hours per day and discuss with drivers potential mechanisms to ensure safe driving.
  • Ensure The Coca-Cola Company's global Advertising and Marketing to Children Policies are being effectively and consistently implemented at a regional level.

You have to read between the lines to see what this report really says.

And what about health, obesity, or the shocking increase in childhood tooth decay that is occurring in Latin America these days as a result of the influx of sugary drinks? Not a word.

Why is Oxfam America helping Coca-Cola to market its products in Latin America and Africa? I can only guess that Coca-Cola's grant to Oxfam must have been substantial.

And thanks to Kelly Moltzen for sending the links.


This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: George Frey/Reuters

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/04/cokes-new-buddy-oxfam-helps-coca-cola-reduce-poverty/237666/