Classic Coke

The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC), through its Australian subsidiary Coca-Cola Australia, has announced the joint acquisition, together with its Australian-based bottler Coca-Cola (CCA) of a 45% ownership stake in Australia's Made Group, which produces non-soda 'healthy' beverages. In an October 4 announcement on Coca-Cola Australia's 'Coca-Cola Journey' website, the deal is described as part of Coke's transformation into a 'total beverage company'.  The 'winning partnership' will see the construction of a new manufacturing site for Made products in Melbourne.

TCCC directly finances its acquisition-powered 'total beverage' transformation, which has also seen it increase its equity stake in CCA and invest directly in the expansion of CCA's manufacturing operations. While others largely do the manufacturing, TCCC plays a hands-on financial, marketing, promotion and distribution role, retains full ownership and operation of the indispensable 'secret recipe' concentrate plants and reaps a steady cash flow from its wholly-owned brands and trademarks. TCCC is more than a 'partner' - it is the financial nerve center of the global Coca-Cola system, and its power within that system is enormous.

'Partnership' with TCCC hits a brick wall when it comes to assuming responsibility for human rights, including industrial relations, within the system. Coke fosters deliberate ambiguity bordering on evasion shading into deception when tasked with defining its responsibilities with respect to the many hundreds of thousands of people employed within the system.

How many people work for TCCC? According to the same Coke media release about the Made Group deal, with our bottling partners, The Coca-Cola Company employs more than 700,000 people, bringing economic opportunity to local communities worldwide. How does that divide between TCCC and its bottlers and other 'partners'? The truth is that TCCC has been steadily reducing its own bottling operations by spinning them off to bottlers. The Company today directly employs some 35,000 people. But the answer to the question depends on who is asking. If you want to impress the media, or 'local communities', or attendees at a company-sponsored human rights jamboree,  it could be 700,000. If you want to impress financial analysts seeking a maximum return per employee, it could be as few as possible. And if you want to confuse the hell out of anyone asking about the company's record on ensuring respect for the human rights of employees at workplaces within the Coca-Cola system, let them guess - the TCCC 'landmark' human rights report (link) cultivates calculated ambiguity, including ambiguity about the scope of the Company's human rights due diligence.

Confronted with serial abuses of workplace rights - in Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland, the Philippines, Spain and the USA- TCCC claims to be powerless and simply recycles the bland assurances it gets from its managers and bottlers.

TCCC can 'partner' for expansion, but is failing to partner to ensure respect for the human rights of workers who make the Company's branded products. Adding healthy drinks to a portfolio does not equate with ensuring a healthy environment for the exercise of rights. It's Classic Coke.


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