The complicated area of corporate support for social justice initiatives can be demonstrated by the recent events surrounding The Coca-Cola Company and its ties to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. A number of incidents that have been brought to light by accusations of support for contentious stances highlight the fine line that businesses must walk when it comes to balancing advocacy with the need to stay out of the news.
The Original Connection: BLM’s Chicago chapter posted a now-deleted social media message on a platform expressing sympathy with Palestine, which sparked the issue. The post included a paraglider, which came to represent Hamas terrorists who were said to have infiltrated the Israel-Gaza border using these devices and carried out violent crimes, such as an attack at a trance music festival.
Coca-Cola’s Role: Senator Ted Cruz chastised Coca-Cola for funding BLM, pointing out in particular that the firm encouraged charity contributions to the group on its own website. In support of racial justice projects, Sprite, a Coca-Cola brand, gave half a million dollars to the Black Lives Matter Global Network.
The Website Scrub: It seems that Coca-Cola quietly took down from its official website any mention of its financial backing of BLM in response to the criticism. Sen. Cruz posted screenshots of the website’s before and after on social media, which contributed to the myth that the massive beverage company was severing ties with the divisive organization.
BLM’s Reaction: BLM Chicago released a statement admitting that they sent out messages that they weren’t proud of during the outcry. In the statement, they reiterated their support for Palestine and emphasized the right to oppose what they saw to be 75 years of Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory.
Public Reaction: Following the issue, a wave of criticism was posted on social media, with some accusing BLM Chicago of encouraging violence and denouncing the organization for its position. Public figures who strongly disapproved of BLM’s position included GOP analyst Robby Starbuck and author Aviva Klompas.
Corporate Contributions to BLM: The article notes that upon George Floyd’s passing in May 2020, a number of Fortune 500 corporations, including Amazon, Coca-Cola, Sprite, DoorDash, DropBox, Warner Brothers, and Microsoft, made donations to BLM.
In conclusion, the Coca-Cola Company must navigate the difficult fields of corporate social responsibility, social justice activism, and public perception. The fact that the company took down any references to BLM from their website illustrates the difficult dynamics businesses encounter when they support social movements. Businesses that participate in philanthropy are able to better understand the delicate balance that exists between standing out for justice and avoiding controversy. This has led to a wider discussion on corporate social responsibility and the effects of social and political affiliations.