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Coco-Cola has initiated a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service to restore damaged watersheds, according to a recent article in The Guardian.
Watersheds are areas where water flows before draining into rivers, basins or seas.
The plan aims to restore part of the national drinking water supply, cleansing as much as one billion liters, according to a USDA press release from September. Coca-Cola also hopes to benefit by harnessing the clean water for use in its own factories.
The company has also engaged in a public relations campaign surrounding the work, possibly in an effort to rehabilitate its brand, which has suffered in part from the environmental impact attributed to improper disposal of its plastic products.
The company also faces serious allegations that it paid paramilitary operatives to execute union leaders in Colombia. Coca-Cola has denied the accusations, and a Colombian court has struck down a case tied to the incidents.
Furthermore, a recent study published by the JAMA Journal of Internal Medicine linked fairly moderate levels of sugar consumption with a significant risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Drinking soda regularly was among the biggest common factors in test subjects who developed fatal heart disease.
Still, the company’s substantial efforts to rehabilitate watersheds signal the larger international trend of governments turning to corporations to help with projects for the public good. These public-private partnerships, as they are commonly known, range from the highly controversial privatization of prisons and schools to environmental remediation like the watershed initiative.
Critics of this form of partnership worry that these projects will exacerbate conflicts of interest between the private and public sectors. For example, with the watershed initiative, Coca-Cola contributes substantial amounts of work and funding to government departments that are charged with regulating the consumer giant.
A Coca-Cola representative in charge of water resource sustainability management, Jonathan Radtke, rejected negative interpretations of the watershed project. Speaking to The Guardian, Radtke characterized the environmental efforts of his company and the U.S. government as “win-win.”
Further complicating the brand and international image of Coca-Cola, the company recently aired a commercial for Super Bowl audiences in which a montage of racially and culturally diverse Americans were featured alongside a multilingual rendition of the song “America the Beautiful.” Time Magazine chronicled the release of the ad, focusing on the onslaught of negative comments it received by Americans concerned about changes in the ethnic makeup of the country.