Better Than the Real Thing
"You cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate."
Nearly 4 billion people around the world earn less than $1,500 (US) a year. At least a billion people subsist on the equivalent of one US dollar a day or less. The world's 587 billionaires are worth $1.9 trillion...a total higher than the gross domestic product of the 170 poorest countries combined. Every two seconds, somewhere on the planet, a child starves to death.
Multinational corporations know this. They keep track of such things. They are keenly aware of the insidious role they play in an inequitable world threatened by environmental doom...and they work tirelessly to camouflage this role.
Consider a May 9, 2004 article by Simon Romero in The New York Times, "War and Abuse Do Little to Harm U.S. Brands." Romero begins: "When American troops moved into Iraq last year, European executives at the Ford Motor Company braced for an adverse consumer reaction." Niel Golightly, a Ford spokesman in Cologne, Germany added: "Our sales and image and market share are things we monitor extremely closely. So the potential fallout risk from Ford being perceived as a symbol of America's foreign policy is something we're always looking at."
Romero goes on to claim that U.S. corporations have thus far remained relatively unscathed by the rampant anti-American feelings across the globe. "McDonald's, one of the largest private-sector employers in Brazil, is sometimes the target of taunts in left-wing demonstrations on Avenida Paulista, one of São Paulo's main streets, but it is also common to see demonstrators eating at McDonald's after the rallies," he explains. "For the most part, boycotts announced against American products last year have fizzled out.
An example of this took place just before the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. "The Muslim Consumer Association of Malaysia called for a boycott of Coca-Cola," writes Romero, "and there was a flurry of news media reports on the sudden popularity of local brands of cola." According to Marimuthu Nadason, secretary general of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations, that boycott was essentially ignored. "Anyone can call for a boycott," Nadason said, "but it won't work."
Not so, says Max Keiser, founder of Karmabanque, where "the civil disobedience of Gandhi" is combined with "the financial savvy of George Soros."
"You don't need guns or money to destroy American companies-and the environmental catastrophes they thrive on," Keiser declares. "All we ask is that you focus your dissent on one company at a time and we ask that you focus that dissent/attention on a company that is vulnerable to the low cost weapon of choice for activists: the boycott."
Keiser points to the recent "carbohydrate boycott"-- and resulting plummet in the stock price -- of Krispy Kreme donuts. "These companies are not able to defend against a boycott or organized dissent," he says.
According to Karmabanque's Boycott Vulnerability Ratio-and contrary to unsuccessful efforts in Malaysia-Coca Cola is about as vulnerable to boycott as a corporation can get. "This means that for every dollar I do not spend on Coke, I am erasing 5 dollars off their market capitalization (number of shares outstanding times the current stock price)," says Keiser. The number, he explains, is devised by dividing market capitalization by trailing twelve-month sales.
The "magic," says Keiser, occurs when "word gets out to the 800 billion dollar hedge fund industry-beholden to no one-that there is a very large boycott of Coke's stock. A big boycott equals loss of revenues equals lower stock price. Mr. Hedge Fund sells short stock (a bet that the stock price will go down) in Coke. Sure enough, the stock price is going down. More boycotters, cost free to them, join the boycott and more hedge money goes into selling short the stock. Now, my $1 of dissent, multiplied times 5, is multiplied again thanks to the hedge money.
"Both hedge funds and activists benefit when a target company's stock price declines," says Keiser. "The hedge funds get dollars, while the activists get a new way to pressure companies by attacking their stock price. At some point, the stock price gets so low that the company cries 'uncle' and gives in to the pressure group is some way."
Why Coca Cola, you ask? Besides the obvious health concerns surrounding a heavily marketed product made up of sugar, caffeine, and chemicals and the political clout wielded by the sugar and soft drink industries in general and Coke in particular...check out these sites for some motivation:
Obviously, Coca Cola is a worthy target for boycott and contempt and, according to Max Keiser, Coke is a vulnerable target, to boot. John Trumphour, Research Director of the Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Trade Union Program, has been active in both exposing and challenging Coke's actions. "I noticed that Coca Cola has announced some retreats in India," Trumphour says. "Perhaps this shows that struggle against this company may yield victories, though the fight in India is far from over."
The question on everyone's lips is: What can be done? Arundhati Roy suggests, "We need to disrupt business as usual...(and) a great starting point would be to target a few companies."
Let's show them that we can do it...and put some fear into other vulnerable targets like Microsoft, Exxon, etc. More than any rally, march, or presidential vote, we need to send a powerful message of accountability to the pirates who have sentenced us to a future of doom and despair.
In that spirit, I submit: Coke is it.
(Contact Max Keiser of Karmabanque: email@example.com. For a comprehensive list of Coca Cola-owed brands to boycott (PDF): www.corporatecampaign.org/killer-coke/pdf/CokeBrands.pdf
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). His most recent book is The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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