Coke has been accused of violence against union members in South America, water pollution overseas, and contributing to child health problems. Is it true?
Coca-Cola spends $2.8 billion a year in advertising to make sure its soda is seen as the most iconic American drink -- a beverage enjoyed around the world, virtual peace-building in a bottle. The company has spent 124 years polishing its image, but it took author Michael Blanding only 300 pages to tarnish that gleam. In his new book, The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink, Blanding details the sordid history of the company, from patent medicine experiment to multinational behemoth.
The book opens with a page- and stomach-turning description of the murder of Isidro Gil, a union worker posted at the front gate of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Carepa, Colombia. As Blanding describes later in the book, Coca-Cola has been accused of being complicit in the deaths of union members in South America who were killed by paramilitaries. Some people may find this shocking. "Finding the Coca-Cola Company accused of murder is like finding out Santa Claus is accused of being a pedophile," Blanding writes in the introduction. But throughout the book he details the accusations against Coca-Cola on the human rights front, explaining why Coke is reviled elsewhere in the world. In India and Mexico the company is facing blowback for allegations that its bottling plants have drained local aquifers and polluted water sources; in Turkey there are more charges of anti-union activity; and in the U.S. and Europe people are fed up with Coke's advertising to children, especially in schools, and are concerned about the link between soft drinks and obesity.