Coke meets with human rights advocates who seek new practices for giving, diversity in Brazil

By David Pendered

The Coca-Cola Co. has agreed to continue discussions with an Atlanta-based human rights group, led by veteran advocate Joe Beasley, to consider expanding Coke’s philanthropic and diversity practices in Brazil, advocates said Sunday.

Joe Beasley during his recent trip to Haiti

Joe Beasley is calling on The Coca-Cola Co. to address concerns of Afro-descendants in Brazil. In this 2010 photo, Beasley worked in Haiti after the earthquake. Credit: Joe Beasley Foundation

Top Coke officials met with the advocates Friday and agreed to convene a tele-conference this week, advocates said Sunday. The Coke representatives who attended Friday’s meeting reportedly included Alexander Cummings, chief administrative officer, and Lisa Borders, chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation. Coke did not respond to a request for comment that was submitted Friday.

“We’re calling for Coke to have a reciprocal relationship with its most loyal consumers in Brazil,” Beasley said in a statement, referring to Brazil’s population of nearly 100 million Afro-descendants.

One catalyst for the budding movement is the global attention that’s to focus on Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Brazilian unrest related to the cost of hosting the World Cup began earlier this year.

Since June, more than 1 million protesters have taken to the streets to express concerns, according to published reports. The disturbances that have unfolded this year were cited by wsj.com as a contributing factor in Coke’s lackluster second quarter.

According to the advocates, Cummings agreed to arrange a conference call this week. Participants are to include Coke’s country leaders in Brazil; advocates led by Beasley; and the leaders of a few unidentified Afro-Brazilian organizations.

“We’re challenging Coca-Cola to be good corporate citizens and to provide a fair extension of their domestic and social responsibility practices for Afro-descendants,” Beasley said in a statement.

Coke's new bottler in Brazil serves a territory Coke says is larger Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. Map credit: cia.gov

Coke’s new bottler in Brazil serves a territory larger Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. Map credit: cia.gov

Beasley wants to establish a financial commitment from Coke to address the concerns and begin implementing a program in September.

“The need is so great in Brazil, we can’t afford to wait any longer to start these programs,” Beasley said in a statement released Sunday.

Coke is a natural first stop for organizers. In the future, they intend to ask additional international companies that operate in Brazil to expand their social outreach and diversity programs in the country.

For starters, Atlanta-based Coke has significant interests in Brazil. Brazil is the company’s fourth-largest market, based on annual sales, and a bottler that began operations in July employs 15,000 workers to serve 70 million customers, according to Coke’s website. A drop in Brazilian sales contributed to Coke’s stalled earnings in the second quarter, which wsj.com described as a place where, “consumption was flat amid slackening consumer spending and social unrest.”

Secondly, both Atlanta and Fulton County have formal connections with Brazil. Atlanta has a Sister Cities relation with Rio de Janeiro. Fulton has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Brazilian state of Bahia to promote cooperation. Fulton County Chairman John Eaves reportedly attended the meeting last week at Coke’s headquarters.

Coke also is a major sponsor of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The company expects to invest nearly $1 billion in the two events – and its first a video of its World Cup anthem was released a week before the recent round of protests began in June.

Mable Ivory is helping Beasley through her role as director of Brazil Initiatives for the Joe Beasley Foundation. Ivory’s experience includes business development and social justice efforts in Brazil, according to her website.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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