Thursday 9 April 2009

Killing the Brand

Above is a Page 48 from the Young & Rubicam analysis of the global recession by Simon Silvester. and it seems quiet apt that the picture and quote they have chosen is Innocent (the smoothie manufactures) and the quote he has used is "Brands that articulate clear, compelling propositions have the edge in a recession."

Earlier this week "Coca-Cola has bought a £30m stake in Innocent, the British fruit drink and "smoothie" maker renowned for its ethical ethos."

You can read Innocent statement about their new partner Coca-Cola or the more comedy version at INNOCENT SUCKS COKE

Well I have a little problem with a company of allegedly such ethics making a pact with the devil Robert Johnson style just to sell more smoothies in Europe. So I wrote to the CEO at and explain why I think they are doing a bad thing teaming up with Coca-Cola and Coke's pass record on human rights with regards trade unions especially in Colombia below is his reply I received:

Hi Kev

Thanks for your email. I respect your opinion, and I suspect there isn't much I will be able to say that will change your point of view, but I appreciate you taking the time to write in.

As a business, Coke are definitely not perfect (although it is worth stating that independent judicial enquiries at the time found that the Columbia allegations to be unfounded), but they do show a relatively good track record in learning and making good on the things they get things wrong. And the people we've met have been decent, ordinary folk.

Anway, I won't clog up your inbox and annoy you further. But thanks for your custom in the past. For what it is worth, every promise we have made to our drinkers about making natural healthy products, pushing for 'lighter footprint' ingredients, packaging and production techniques, and supporting charities in the countries where the fruit comes from, remains in place. In fact, with this investment will be doing more of the above.



The Young and Rubicam article pictured above mentions two points:

  1. The destructive power of the internet
  2. Watch word of mouth
They say that "Bad word of mouth can kill a new film, software or music release within weeks" this can equally be applied to a brand. I have seen on a number of sites commenting on this take over and from single people to whole families saying that they will not touch the Innocent brand now they have gotten into bed with Coca-Cola. Have Innocent killed their brand and become just another manufacture is this Dasani mkII.

Mark Thomas wrote the book "Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola" this is his reply to Richard regarding Innocent and Coca-Cola. Mark has invesitaged Coca Cola ethical practices around the work and responsed not just to mine but to many of the standard template responses that Innocent email out.
Hi Richard,

I just wanted to drop you a note regarding your new found partnership with Coca Cola. An acquaintance mailed you earlier today and passed your response on to me. There are some fundamental factual
inaccuracies and ignorance in your reply. You wrote:

"As a business, Coke are definitely not perfect (although it is worth
saying that independent judicial enquiries at the time found that the Columbia (sic) allegations to be unfounded, the same with India water although I am nervous about saying these things as it makes it sound
like I am here to represent Coke, which I am not). But they do show a relatively good track record in learning and making good on the things they get things wrong. And the people we've met have been decent, ordinary folk."

The allegations against Coca Cola in Colombia are simple: trade unionists working for the company have been intimidated and murdered, in one case Isidro Segundo Gil was killed inside the plant, virtually
under the Coca Cola logo, to this day Coca Cola have not had any independent investigation into the allegation that managers of the bottling plants in Colombia colluded with or directed the para
military death squads. The murders happened over 12 years ago.

Your response states that "independent judicial enquiries at the time found that the Colombia allegations to be unfounded," What independent judicial enquiries are you referring to ? The Colombian judicial
system has managed to investigate, prosecute and convict about 1% of the trade unionist murders, out of thousands. So any investigation conducted in Columbia is hardly independent and barely qualify as

Or do you refer to the USA court case ? Here the Alien Tort Claims Act is being used to try and get the Colombian bottlers and the parent company in the dock. But it can't be that one as initially the case
was found to be inadmissible (though it is being appealed), so this is obviously not the 'independent judicial enquiries' that you refer to, is it?

So what 'independent judicial enquiries" are you referring to?

You do not mention the fact that the Coca Cola Company tried to silence the Colombian trade unionists who brought the case against them in the USA. Coke offered to settle out of court to the tune of about $13 million on condition that they give up their jobs working in the Coke bottling plants and that the trade unionists never ever criticise Coke nor any other company that work with Coke in the future. Had the trade unionists signed and taken the $13 million they would break the terms of the settlement and be liable to court action
if they criticised you Richard.

Neither do you mention the trade union busting of the companies bottlers. The cases of Coke plant managers falsifying evidence against trade unionists, accusing them of terrorism. resulting in innocent men
wrongly imprisoned for 6 months before the charges against them being dismissed.

You do mention the fact that over some 15 years the companies bottlers has gone from about 80% of the work force being in permanent employment with 20% casual labour to the situation we now find, where
20% of the work force is permanent and 80% casualised with no rights to even join a trade union.

Richard, I have spent some time in Colombia interviewing and taking testimony from people who witnessed Isidro Segundo Gil's murder to the delivery men who are not allowed to join a union. I am happy for you
to have all of these interviews and for you to review them and see for yourself. I can even put you in touch with the people themselves , so if you wish you can visit Colombia and talk to them face to face, I think you would find them decent ordinary folk.

And so onto India, there are many stories here but let us stay with the stories about the Company opening plants (in a water intensive industry) in water sensitive areas with with little or not regard for the communities who find their water compromised and depleted. Once again you say independent judicial enquiries have found claims unfounded. Once again I ask what independent judicial enquiries.

Firstly there are four plants where the companies operations have put the local community water in danger, in Kerala, near Jaipur and two in Uttra Pradesh. Two of these four plants have been shut down after
protests and legal challenges. Coke were forced to close these plants.

The two remaining plants are near Jaipur and near Varanasi , neither plants have had judicial enquiries that found any claims of water depletion unfounded. So I am at a loss as to what judicial enquiries you refer to.

Happily for you Richard I have spent time in India too, and am happy for you to have access to all the interviews I have conducted with local people from all four of the plants, so you can hear for yourself
what the allegations are.

Richard, you fail to mention the allegations that are raised against the company in Turkey regarding union busting or in El Salvador regarding Coke's sugar being produced with the help of child labour.

Neither do you refer to the allegations of union busting in Ireland or
the curt findings against the company in Mexico, where they were found to be in breech of anti monopoly law and intimidated some of the poorest shop owners.

So I am happy to send you a copy of my book which details some of these things BUT more importantly I offer to make my research and interviews on all of these issues available for you to come and peruse , so you might be able to make a more balanced comment on your partnership with the company. I do not understand how you can make comments that Coke have a "relatively good track record in learning and making good on the things they get things wrong" without considering these points.

Yours, Mark Thomas

With these facts in mind I think Innocent have tarnished their brand and can no longer be considered an ethical company and like the Y&R report says they should "watch out for the destructive power of the internet" and "Watch word of mouth" . People like myself who are working in a recession have been pulling in the purse strings and this gives be another reason to move brand and at a time when sales are hard that is never a good thing and building back from from the coke image could be a step too far for Innocent.

No comments: