Three of the organizations that Dr. Gayle cites above, the American Public Health Association, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics have spoken out forcefully about their concerns with the overconsumption of soft drinks and their contribution to obesity and related chronic disease. Yet, this doesn’t seem to have made an impact on Dr. Gayle.
Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company says this about Dr. Gayle:
“Helene brings a global mindset and a deep understanding of health and humanitarian issues to our Company. Her expertise and insight will be invaluable as we continue to expand our global initiatives around sustainability and women.”
I suspect Mr. Kent wants Dr. Gayle on the Coca-Cola Board for a number of reasons. When companies like Coca-Cola donate money to high-profile non-profits like CARE and form cozy relationships with their leaders, they do so because they want their brands associated with something charitable. Coca-Cola’s association with CARE gives it positive press, particularly in emerging markets, and helps create a positive public perception about the brand, which can lead to increased sales.
Coca-Cola has other reasons for aligning itself with one of the world’s top anti-poverty organizations. Just this week, Coca-Cola was one of the world’s ten food giants named and criticized in Oxfam’s “Behind the Brand” report. Oxfam’s goal with “Behind the Brand” is “to provide people who buy and enjoy these products with the information they need to hold the Big Ten to account for what happens in their supply chains.” The ten corporations were graded on treatment of workers, farmers, women, land and water, around the world. They were also graded on their treatment of the climate, and overall transparency.
Coca-Cola was cited for particularly poor performance on land rights and support for farmers. On women, climate, transparency and water it was given a grade of “Some Progress” (which falls below grades of “Fair” and “Good.”) And Coca-Cola received a grade of “Fair” on workers. No doubt Coca-Cola hopes that having CARE’s Dr. Gayle on its Board of Directors helps burnish its reputation on sustainability and treatment of the world’s poorest citizens — while it aggressively introduces and markets Coca-Cola’s non-nutritious drinks into more and more impoverished countries and communities around the globe.