Coca-Cola is in the news again because, as NPR’s Marketplace reports, the beverage and snacks corporation has,
“teamed up with Dean Kamen, the man best known as the inventor of the Segway, to distribute one of Kamen’s other inventions into the world. It’s the Slingshot, a vapor compression water purification machine, which Kent says can create 850 liters of safe drinking water from any contaminated water. And he purports that it uses less power than a hairdryer, operable through solar power off the grid.”
You can read about how the Slingshot works here.
Now why is Coca-Cola doing this? According to Muhtar Kent, because “when there’s healthy communities, we have a healthy, sustainable business.” It’s a win-win, right?
The company’s drinkable water initiative, and partnership with Kamen, flies in the face of its dismal track record in developing countries like India, where Coca-Cola has a history of exploiting water resources to the detriment of local citizens.
Even now, water shortages in major regions of Gujarat are fueling political unrest. Of course, Gujarat just happens to be the location of one of the company’s largest water packaging plants in that country, operated by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited.
This goes to a point raised in the Marketplace interview, which is delicately phrased as a question in the form of, “But isn’t Coca-Cola inherently making water seem like a consumer product, rather than a basic human right?”
Kent responds by rejecting the question outright, and lauding the company for “servicing rural Africa, Latin America and Asia by selling safe bottled water.”
Coca-Cola is merely presenting consumers with more choices. You can purchase their traditional soft drinks which are tasty but hazardous to your health, or the slightly less unhealthy fruit juices the company also sells. Or you can skip out on the flavor all together and go with a bottle of water, which, although environmentally unsustainable and more costly, is probably a preferable alternative to the contaminated tap water that’s more readily available. The choice is yours! Don’t you feel empowered!
I criticized the company for pushing similar propaganda back when it originally started peddling its false calorie counting mantra as part of a new marketing campaign in the face of growing concern over the links between soda and childhood obesity.
Kent repeats it in the above interview, emphasizing that all that really matters is calories in, calories out. Which is just not true, aka a lie. Losing weight is different from being healthy, and just because a beverage has zero calories doesn’t mean that it can’t harm your body. On this count, Kent might as well be claiming that tobacco is just fine because, hey, it’s a plant that grows naturally.