Telephone conference with Coca Cola – 5/6/08

Coca Cola in Soweto

Here is a summary of the telephone conference with Coca Cola.

Representatives from Coca Cola:
Euan Wilmshurst
Manager, Stakeholder Engagement
Coca-Cola Global Stakeholder Team

Salvatore Gabola
Global Director Stakeholder Relations

Representative from this group:
Simon Berry

Introductions (see annex 1)

I started by outlining the idea and how it had progressed to become a group of 1800 people. This is all here.

I made the point that we were not just interested in the distribution of the salts but also in the awareness raising and education process as well.

What we have achieved was described as ‘remarkable’ but there seemed to be a genuine delight that the campaign was a positive one, which Coca Cola could potentially engage with. I pointed out that this group offers a valuable middle ground – bridging the usual divide between ‘anti-‘campaigners and the Coca Cola ‘publicity machine’. In this middle ground, the majority would be able to gather around a simple positive action and in the process learn from, and about, each other. I think this is accepted by Coca Cola. >>more

Early on, an initial tension became obvious. This is, the desire of the
group that something happens quickly and the fact that even with the
best intentions Coca Cola has an inertia to it which means it cannot
‘turn on a sixpence’ even when it wants to.

Salvatore reiterated the fact that their distribution network consisted
of local independent businesses and the success of the network was
based on these independent entrepreneurs making money from the
distribution activity. I said that our group would not be happy with
any solution that undermined the livelihood of local people and that if
anything it should work the other way around – distributors should make
more money from the initiative not less.

Salvatore said that they had tried distribution of non-Coca Cola
products before but it had not been a great success. The implication
was that the support systems were not sufficient and it was more
complex that it may appear.

I said that I thought it was also important that the rehydration salts
were actually inside the Cola Cola crates and not in a separate box. I
feel strongly that the salts should be seen as part of the Coca Cola
offer – not something separate – as this will help raise profile and
awareness and ensure that the salts got to their destination.

The point was made that if they did something they’d want to do it
properly and in this context they described a research project they
were starting in Tanzania in Jun/Jul. This is being coordinated by
Harvard (I think) and is using local researchers. The first phase of
this work will look at how the existing distribution network works and
look at the potential for doubling it in size to create more jobs/more
wealth. It includes looking at skills and training needs. So it’s very
much a commercial focus. However, the information gained will help
assess the feasibility of our idea and help ensure a successful

I asked for more detail on the Tanzania trial which I think will be
forthcoming – watch this space. I also suggested that the project had a
steering committee with a representative from this group. They are
going to consider this but did say that they would want such a steering
committee to be ‘locally driven’ by the African businesses. We would
agree I think.

I asked about the penetration of the idea into Coca Cola. Salvatore
said that the group was being followed by the public affairs people in
Altanta and the business in Africa. People are interested because it is
a positive campaign which is motivating.

Another link is that the current CE of Coca Cola was born in southern
Africa and started his career in Zambia which is where this idea was

Next steps
– face to face meeting with Salvatore. I expect this to be at the end of June.
– Coca Cola will provide more detail about the Tanzania pilot.
– Coca Cola will consider a steering group and a possible involvement from our group

I think the meeting was a good trust-building exercise and the we have a achieved active engagement with the right people in a global business which isn’t a bad start.

Annex 1: Introductions

Salvatore Gabola

Global Director Stakeholder Relations
Worked for Coca Cola for 10 years
Based in Brussels
Global Head of Stakeholder Relations (newly created post) – part of Public Relations
Work includes liaison with the European Commission/Parliament
Stakeholders = NGOs, Academics and Think Tanks

There are four threads to their CSR work:
– Environment (esp water supplies)
– Workers rights
– Health & fitness (inc obesity)
– Sustainable communities

Euan Wilmshurst

Manager, Stakeholder Engagement
Coca-Cola Global Stakeholder Team
UK-based and part of Salvatore’s team
Background in the Trade Union movement and southern Africa
Has been leading on:
– The ‘Business Call for Action’ (UK Gov led by Gordon Brown)
– ‘Action for South Africa’ (I’m not exactly sure what this is)

Further information:
    All of the Coca Cola campaign posts

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6 Responses to Telephone conference with Coca Cola – 5/6/08

  1. Excellent, Simon. Frankly, Coca Cola’s participation in this dialogue is good marketing for them, at least in my book.
    The local aspect is an interesting one. The distributors on the ground will need to be engaged in the project sooner rather than later, I think. Do we have any sense how small they are? They may indeed be quite large businesses, and may want to protect their bottom line.

  2. Paul Webster says:

    That comes across as a really positive meeting Simon.
    What is making Coca Cola sit up and tae note is that we have no axe to grind, no interest in their market – we are not a threat as “knockers” or as “competitors”. We are simply 1800+ people with a bloody good idea that will stop children dying. Even Coca Cola can see the benefit of that!
    All the way with this one I think!! Keep on the pressure.

  3. Julie Harris says:

    This look like good, steady progress and thanks for sharing the details with us Simon – I sense that you are going to need to keep on pushing hard and we will be here to encourage and support every step of the way. Thank you!

  4. Simon Berry says:

    I don’t know how big the distribution networks are but Coca cola say that 40% are run by women. I guess the research in Dar Es Salam will provide this sort of information, I will find out. I also feel very strongly that the cost of doing this must not fall with the local businesses or Coca Cola for that matter. There are other agencies whose job it is to do this. The sustainable approach is for ‘each to play their part’ by contributing what they do really well to the whole solution.
    You are right – I think they are quietly delighted to have a positive campaign to deal with.
    you are right too! Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Paul Groves says:

    Thanks for another positive and illuminating update.
    I guess the foot in the door has become a welcome inside now.
    Great to know that a face-to-face is being planned ASAP too.
    Thank you again for all your hard work on this. There are plenty of people who appreciate what you are doing – and growing by the day judging by the Facebook membership.

  6. le craic says:

    A great and positive beginning. Looking forward to the next update. I added a note on the nomination page for the New Media award – I’m assuming my comment is in moderation mode as I haven’t seen it on the site yet.

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