Coca-Cola may boast about refreshing the world one drink at a time, but for one former employee, the carbonated giant is guilty of ‘”horrific” working practices and “riding roughshod over decency and our health, in the search for profits.”
Chris Hemmings used to work for the UK arm of Coca-Cola as a territory sales rep whose job was to set off with a van full of fizzy and sugary drinks each and every morning to “sell, sell, sell.”
Preaching the gospel of the “Real Thing” to a world where sugar has been recently identified as an insidious enemy out to rot your very essence requires a certain zeal and missionary drive capable of easily turning a blind eye to the facts.
Chris had neither, and after two days on the job, his enthusiasm was “completely annihilated” by what Coca-Cola expected him to do day in and day out.
Chris writes in The Independent that, on arrival at one store in his branded transit to sell customers everything they need – read: everything they don’t – Chris was traumatized by the sight of a fat kid, who was guzzling from a massive bottle of carbonated juice, and it slowly dawned on him that, “I had become the conduit for obesity, and it felt awful.”
“On arrival at the petrol station forecourt, to my utter dismay, I spotted a young boy, probably no older than fourteen.
“Fourteen years old, and about fourteen stone. Dressed in his repulsive fluorescent school uniform, his face was flushed red from the almost impossible task of standing upright.
“In his hand? A two litre bottle of Sprite. The sugar content of which is 136 grams. That’s 144 per cent of his daily recommended amount – and there were numerous four packs of those on my ‘for sale’ list.”
Despite his disgust at serving the sugar gods, a man’s got to eat, and Chris continued at his job, selling new products and new initiatives to contractually obliged shop owners.
“Any non-Coke products in a Coke fridge and the company could send threatening letters to a struggling corner shop owner. It doesn’t matter that a product may not be selling; they are contractually obliged to fill their fridge with, basically, whatever Coke tells them to.”
As Chris’s sparkle fizzled out, the surge in popularity of the “new kid on the block,” the energy drink, meant he had to relentlessly peddle “new varieties of caffeine-filled sugar bombs.”
Like the most cynical of drug pushers, Chris was told by the men in suits to target the big schools in his area because “Kids love these products.”
“Our targets had to be met, so our targets were kids.
“Teachers started complaining about their pupils being high on energy drinks during class, only to crash later in the day. So lots of schools banned fizzy drinks from their premises. Coke had to start removing vending machines up and down the land. Their reaction was simple: sell it to them off-site instead. And lo and behold! In came the era of the ‘meal deal’.”
Chris called the “meal deal” the new “baby of the bosses,” but he admits that it wasn’t until the 2012 London Olympic that Coca Cola’s brand “activation” became scary.
“As an official sponsor, we completely hijacked the Olympic torch relay. Internally it became less about the torch, but more about how much product was available on the route it took through the UK.
“We were supposed to be celebrating an Olympic flame passing through, but all Coke wanted to do was p**s their product all over those in attendance.”
Enough was enough. Chris started to challenge the ethics of such behavior, but he was told by Coca-Cola, “We’re simply offering the customer a choice.”
“I dispute that to this day. With the levels of advertising, sponsorship and branding they achieve it becomes less a choice, more a subconscious trigger.”
As you can probably guess, Chris no longer works for Coca-Cola, but he remains a firm believer that the company needs to be held to account for its working practices.
“Frankly, anyone gullible enough to believe any ‘research’ suggesting cans of fizzy sugar don’t make you fat is an idiot, but that’s not the real problem here.
“We allow companies like Coca-Cola to sponsor FIFA, the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup without so much as questioning the ethics behind such a decision. By pouring millions of our diabetic dollars in to these events, we start to associate physical activity with fizzy drinks. It’s ludicrous, and yet remains unchallenged.”
(Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for SOBEWFF®)