Coca-Cola is promoted as the ‘Real Thing’, but what’s behind the appealing ads? Coca-Cola is possibly one of the most successful beverage companies in the world, with worldwide consumption of more than 1.9 billion of its beverages daily (About Us: Coca-Cola History, 2014). The company associates its namesake drink, Coca-Cola with feeling happy, youthful, and healthy, yet many people don’t know the actual practices that go into making this world famous beverage. The company was created over 100 years ago, with the syrup originally being used for a medicine-like elixir. It still works something like a drug in that some people are ‘addicted’ to Coca-Cola and need their ‘daily fix’, just like habitual coffee drinkers. (Caffeine Myths and Facts, 2014). It has since gone on to be one of the most recognized brands in the world. Most people have tasted ‘Coke’ or at least heard of the Coca-Cola brand. In fact, since Coca-Cola makes so many different beverages on the market, it is pretty much impossible to avoid one of their products if you are drinking pre-bottled beverages. The general public has a sense of blind acceptance when it comes to Coca-Cola and it’s formulation, not really questioning its makeup; for example, Actor Colin Hanks states, “I don’t need to know how they make Coca-Cola. I think it tastes just fine not knowing what the ingredients are. I think there are some things that should be kept secret” (Brainy Quote, n.d.). Despite the popularity of Coca-Cola, the production of the drink has created a number of problems worldwide, including water shortages, poor working conditions, and numerous negative health implications. Effective marketing has made Coca-Cola phenomenally successful worldwide, but there is a dark side to this company.
Historically, Coca-Cola was first established in Atlanta Georgia, on May 8th, 1886, but not as the beverage that is familiar to most people today. Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a locally known pharmacist, produced the syrup used for Coca-Cola. It was originally designed as a patent medicine to be mixed with carbonated water, which was designed to treat such conditions as: morphine addictions and headaches. He then carried a bottle full of the syrup down the street to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where it was then sold as a fountain drink for five cents a glass. Carbonated water was combined with the syrup to produce the famous drink known today as Coca-Cola. The two main ingredients were: cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine from the kola nut, hence the name Coca-Cola. Dr. Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper Frank M. Robinson suggested the name “Coca-Cola” because he figured that the two C’s would look good for advertising, making it stand out from other companies. He also wrote out the name in a unique script form, which makes the label of coke still stand out today. During the first year of having the drink on the market the sales averaged a mere nine drinks per day. The Coca-Cola Company (2014) states, “[today], daily servings of Coca-Cola beverages are estimated at 1.9 billion globally” (Para 2). In 1903, they removed Cocaine from the formula. Dr. Pemberton could not foresee the future success of his creation, and sold portions of the business to a number of different partners. Just before his death in 1888, he sold the remaining shares of his company to Asa. G. Candler, a shrewd businessman, who eventually acquired the rights and complete control of the Coca-Cola Company (Bellis, 2014). The company produces the syrup and this is then sold to licensed dealers worldwide. The dealers add the sweeteners and the water, and then bottle and distribute the finished product (About Us: Coca-Cola History, 2014). Coca-Cola is now the world’s largest beverage company, and includes such brands as: Sprite, Fanta, Vitamin Water, PowerAde, Minute Maid, and Simply (The Coca-Cola Company, n.d.). This company serves approximately 1.9 billion servings a day from its extensive line of beverages, a long way from its humble beginnings (About Us: Coca-Cola History, 2014).
One of the main issues with the production of present day Coca-Cola beverages is that they require an enormous water supply and this appears to be leading to water shortages and contamination in some areas of the world where Coca-Cola has its bottling plants. Many people don’t know the practices used to create this world famous beverage, and the effect this is having on the local populations in places where it is bottled. In India, where Coca-Cola is produced, there has been a dramatic effect on the water levels, and this is suspected to be a direct result of Coca-Cola production: “Farmers say that the water tables started to drop dramatically about 8 years ago, just after Coca-Cola set up a factory there” (The Coca-Cola Case, 2009). Suicide rates among farmers in India, are growing at a rapid rate because of the water shortages. The farmers are feeling helpless because their farms are failing due to the water shortages, and they have no recourse. They feel that they can no longer take care of themselves and their families; therefor this often leads to suicide. The company is pumping water out of public aquifers (natural underground reservoirs) to make soft drinks and bottled water. The water that farmers extract goes back into the water cycle; whereas, the water that Coca-Cola extracts gets put into bottles and is driven 200 miles away, leaving the water cycle forever: “Coca-Cola has often been accused of exploiting water, especially in India where their plant in Carola was forced to shut down after violent protests from farmers. For every litre of soft drink, the company has to extract about 3 litres of water” (The Coca-Cola Case, 2009). In Plachimada, India the Coca-Cola bottling plant was shut down in 2004 due to the Company abusing water resources. In 2010 a High Power Committee created by the state government of Kerala in India recommended that Coca-Cola should be held financially responsible for the overuse of the water resources and the severe contamination of the water and soil by its bottling production in Plachimada. According to Global Research (2010), in the report it was stated that, “the Committee has come to the conclusion that the Company is responsible for these damages and it is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and the pollution caused to the water resources” (Para 7). The report also stated that compensation should be at least $40 million. In addition to the extensive use of water for the production of Coke products, the bottling plants are also dumping wastewater into the ground, which in turn, has polluted the scarce water that remains. In short, Coca-Cola appears to be having a massive negative impact on the communities in which its bottling plants are located.
In addition to the water issues associated with Coca-Cola, its business practices seem to be contributing to poor working conditions in many of the developing countries where it produces and distributes its product. The company gets its sugar from canes grown in developing countries such as El Salvador (Lobe, 10 June 2004). At the Sugar Cane plantations in El Salvador there are approximately 230,000 working boys and girls between the ages of five and seventeen. They work up to sixteen hours a day, sometimes with only one or two days off a month. They suffer from: smoke inhalation, fatal workplace injuries, and exhaustion from the long days working under the direct sunlight (Lobe, 10 June 2004). Child labourers as young as eight years old use dangerous tools such as machetes in their work on sugar cane plantations in El Salvador (Lobe, 10 June 2004). Basic human rights such as education are being taken away. Children in the field have to pay for their own medical treatment, and if they are injured on the job, they don’t receive any pay for the time they are in recovery (Lobe, 10 June 2004). These children are often working to support their entire families, and in many cases, the local culture supports the ‘entire’ family working together in the cane fields (Lobe, 10 June 2004). There are laws in place to protect children from labouring in dangerous working conditions, but these laws are often not enforced, and the children are often listed as ‘helpers’ not labourers so that the laws can be circumvented (Lobe, 10 June 2004). As reported by Jim Lobe (2004), Coca-Cola states it “will not use child labor as defined by local law” (Para 14), and since it does not buy sugar directly from the plantations, only from the mill that processes it, it can state that it does comply with its own guidelines (Para 14). Jim Lobe (2004) reports that Human Rights Watch (HRW) concludes, “[that] means that Coca-Cola’s supplier mill can comply with Coca-Cola’s guiding principles even though it is aware that the sugar it refines is harvested in part by child labor”(Para 15). The Coca-Cola Company must be aware of where the sugar comes from, but they choose to ignore it. In the Philippines it is estimated that there are 2.4 million child workers, many of whom work in the mines and the fields (Lah, 2 May 2012). In the Mindanao region of the Philippines, Coca-Cola is one of the main customers for the sugar from the sugar cane fields. In an article by CNN reporter Lah (2012), he states that “The Coca-Cola company is one of the largest buyers of sugar in the world and the sugar factories fed by the fields of Northern Mindanao call Coca-Cola one of their main customers” (Para 13). In the situation in Mindanao, the Coca-Cola Foundation, created by Coca-Cola, has recognized this problem of child labour. To help alleviate the problem, the company is helping to pay for the construction of a four-room high school in Mindanao in order to educate the children and hopefully reduce the use of child labour in the fields. Coca-Cola is quoted as saying in a statement to CNN that it “ does not support, encourage or endorse any form of child labor in our operations throughout our global bottling system or in our supplier network” (Para 14). In Columbia, and other developing countries where Coca-Cola is distributed, workers are responsible for the cost of any bottles that break. They rent the trucks that are used to deliver the Coke products, and are responsible for the maintenance of the trucks. This means that they make a minimal wage when all of these costs are taken into account. The Coca-Cola Company is not doing enough to ensure decent working conditions and fair business practices are in place for the workers in its operations in developing countries.
Another concern with Coca-Cola is that there are numerous health issues associated with the products themselves. Since Coke was originally manufactured using Cocaine, it was effectively working as a drug. In fact the main consumers were overseas troops who used Coke to help keep themselves alert (This Day in History: Civil War Veteran and Morphine Addict John Pemberton Invents Coca-Cola, 2012). Unfortunately this consumption of Cocaine laced Coke lead to addiction among the soldiers (This Day in History: Civil War Veteran and Morphine Addict John Pemberton Invents Coca-Cola, 2012). Today, from a health perspective, a 355 ml can of Coke contains almost 10 tablespoons of sugar (100% of the daily-recommended intake) in a phosphoric acid solution (Mercola, 12 January 2008). The sugar in the Coke causes your blood sugar to spike, which causes a burst of insulin, which causes your liver to store these sugars as fats (Mercola, 12 January 2008). The phosphoric acid in the drink dissolves the enamel on your teeth as it makes its way down (Mercola, 12 January 2008). The caffeine component causes your blood pressure to rise, your pupils to dilate, and your brain to become alert (Mercola, 12 January 2008). In addition, the phosphoric acid binds to your body’s calcium, magnesium, and zinc, which will now be lost in your urine, depleting your body of these minerals (Mercola, 12 January 2008). The caffeine works on your kidneys to cause you to urinate more frequently, so you also become dehydrated when referring to vitamin water (one of the many Coca-Cola beverages). Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (2010) stated, “The marketing of vitamin water will go down in history as one of the boldest and brashest attempts ever to affix a healthy halo to what is essentially a junk food, a non-carbonated soda” (Para 4). He also stated, “Vitamin water, like Coca-Cola itself, promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cannot deliver on any of the dishonest claims it has made over the years” (Para 4). Although Coca-Cola has marketed many of its beverages as healthy, when examined more closely, there are no health benefits to be found in most of them.
Coca-Cola has become phenomenally successful worldwide due to catchy, effective marketing, but behind the facade there is a dark side to this company. Coca-Cola bottling plants have severely depleted water in places such as India where water was already scarce. In addition, these plants have polluted the remaining ground water in areas where they produce the world famous beverage, putting the economy and welfare of the local people at risk. The health issues associated with the beverage are no better either. With ‘Cokes’ high sugar content, caffeine, and phosphoric acid, this list of ingredients sounds more like the chemicals in a science experiment than in a beverage. Coca-Cola once started out with Cocaine in the formula, yet in some ways its still as addicting today. Coca-Cola, with its massive marketing campaign associates its name with health, youth, fitness, and fun. The Company is basically successfully manipulating peoples’ minds through advertising into believing that Coke is ‘good’ for them. People have to learn to be discriminating consumers, and to ensure that they are not supporting corporations who have poor business practices, and who are not contributing to society in a positive way. Think for yourself and choose wisely based on all the information available before supporting a particular manufacturer.
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