Ah, they still have the Olympics to make money off and, besides, the Coca-Cola mark is untouchable.
That’s what the poohbahs at 1 Coca Cola Plaza NW, Atlanta, GA 30313 must be thinking about what others think of them.
Basically, who cares about county commissioners in Surry County, North Carolina, who banned all Coca-Cola vending machines from government office buildings within their jurisdiction? They have arrived at the conclusion that Coke has gone too far left.
Coca-Cola, instead of minding its own business, decided to add its many cents’ worth to the debate about Georgia’s voting reform legislation.
The new state laws are trying to make sure that no elections in the future can be suspected of wrongdoing, justly or not.
This upset Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, and he published a statement under his company’s letterhead: “Our focus is now on supporting federal legislation that protects voting access and addresses voter suppression across the country. We all have a duty to protect everyone’s right to vote, and we will continue to stand up for what is right in Georgia and across the U.S.”
Sounds innocuous enough. On the surface, at least. But given that it supports the status quo, and that this status has left too much to be desired to approach a sense of fairness, little wonder that many consider Coca-Cola chief’s views unacceptable to the extreme.
Can he do it?
Has the Coca-Cola chief gone too far by making outright political statements under his company’s letterhead, that is, in its name?
What if there are some amongst Coca-Cola employees whose political opinions beg to differ?
Courts in various jurisdictions, including those in the U.S., have established that no company is allowed to discipline, never mind dismiss, an employee for her/his political views. Political offices may be the only exemption: they have been set up to promote certain political agenda. On the other hand, public servants, that is, people who serve the politicians, can entertain whatever views, so long as they don’t impact their work. They may think, for example, that a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer’s uniform includes the same hat for everybody, but since the political and judicial decisions have come down that this isn’t necessarily true for religious reasons, they must keep their mouths shut when they see a Mountie with a turban on his head.
That’s one side of the issue.
The other is much stranger: no business owner or ranking business official has the right to discipline others for political views that differ from hers/his, but when it comes to representing the company, and its political views, the waters get much murkier.
Yes, everybody is entitled to an opinion, even to a stupid opinion, but for a company to hop into the maelstrom of politics, now, that’s a pretty dangerous proposition.
Of course, a gorilla (or an elephant, pick an animal of your own preference) may sit wherever it wants, and so a company of the size and influence of Coca-Cola can do as it pleases, whether it’s right or not.
Elected people represent people
Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris, who just happens to be the county’s longest-serving commissioner, saw it thus: “The left wing in America, they defund, they boycott, they cancel, they tear down statues — all sorts of egregious actions. The expectation from them is the opposing political side will cower in the corner and we’re supposed to accept that and it’s supposed to be OK. And it’s not OK.”
Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris has every right to say it: people elected him to represent them, and they elected him knowing his political views. If they don’t like what he’s saying, and how, he will simply become the county’s former longest-serving commissioner come next election, that’s all.
To make sure the Coca-Cola CEO becomes aware that not everybody agrees with his and his company’s point of view, Harris addressed James Quincey in a letter: “Millions of Americans believe that the last presidential election was not held in a fair manner and that more voter fraud will occur in the future if elections are not closely monitored and regulated.”
Coca-Cola has made it known that the company has contacted the Surry county commissioners, hoping to set up a meeting to discuss the vote.
What that meeting will amount to, considering neither side thinks it’s done anything wrong, remains to be seen.
And it will be also interesting to see how many meetings are going to happen: eight Georgia Republican House members want Coca-Cola products removed from their offices, too.
They wrote a letter to Kevin Perry, president and CEO of the Georgia Beverage Association. Coca-Cola, they wrote, has been spreading disinformation about Georgia’s new elections law and kowtowing to “cancel culture.”
The letter could have hardly been more straightforward: “Your company has made the conscious decision to perpetrate a national dialogue which seeks to intentionally mislead the citizens of Georgia and deepen a divide in our great State. We have the responsibility to all of Georgia not to engage in those misguided intentions nor continue to support corporations who choose to.”
To make sure everyone understood what they had in mind, they added: “Given Coke’s choice to cave to the pressure of an out of control cancel culture, we respectfully request all Coca-Cola Company products be removed from our office suite immediately. Should Coke chose to read the bill, share its true intentions and accept their role in the dissemination of mistruths, we would welcome a conversation to rebuild a working relationship.”
Again, how far they are going to get remains to be seen.
A steeplechase race
The Coca-Cola Board has put together a protocol that, on paper, should help people get in touch with its members.
Understandably, they put limitations on what they are going to honour by reading it. The most interesting part: what they are NOT going to read (verbatim):
- Junk mail and mass mailings
- Product complaints or inquiries
- New product suggestions
- Resumes and other forms of job inquiries
- Business solicitations or advertisements.
In addition, the Board will ignore material that it has described as trivial, obscene, unduly hostile, or threatening. Who will be the judge? The Board, of course.
The same holds for what Coca-Cola described as “illegal or similarly unsuitable items.”
The company has set up a way for ordinary mortals to get in touch with it, but there’s not much evidence it’s both efficient and effective.
But when elected officials start raising cane, big companies better listen.
The alternative may end up costing them dearly.