Coca-Cola Stands By Disrespect for Religious Americans
Beverage Giant Fights Shareholder Proposal Asking It to Explain Apparent Disconnect in Human Rights Priorities Here and Abroad
Atlanta, GA / Washington, D.C. - Coca-Cola's leadership effectively slapped Americans of faith in the face today by fighting a shareholder proposal from the National Center for Public Policy Research's Free Enterprise Project (FEP) — the nation's leading proponent of free-market investor activism. The FEP proposal asked the beverage giant to explain apparent inconsistencies in how the company chooses to address human rights issues here and abroad.
"Coca-Cola used its sizable corporate reputation to trample religious freedom in Georgia to advance LGBT priorities, yet it operates in areas of the world where homosexuality is considered a crime and the penalty can be death. This inconsistency is both troubling and offensive, especially to Americans of faith," said National Center Vice President David W. Almasi, who represented the organization at the meeting. "The National Center gave Coca-Cola executives an opportunity to justify themselves, but they took a hard pass by fighting our proposal. When Target showed a similar dismissive attitude by defiantly making its bathrooms gender neutral, the backlash hurt its bottom line. Coca-Cola may now face the same treatment from America's faithful."
The National Center's proposal "requests the board of directors review the company's guidelines for selecting countries/regions for its operations and issue a report. . . [to] identify Coca-Cola's criteria for investing in, operating in and withdrawing from high-risk regions." Final results of the election will be announced in a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in the next few days. Coca-Cola called it "unnecessary," saying the company's practices are consistent with, among other things, United Nations human rights declarations.
"Coca-Cola does itself no favors by citing United Nations laws. The U.N. Human Rights Council's membership contains human rights offenders such as Cuba, Venezuela and Tunisia. Executives ought to just explain their reasons, unless they cannot defend their actions," noted Almasi.
In 2016, Coca-Cola lent its name to the pressure group Georgia Prospers in opposition to a bill that would have protected religious institutions from having to perform functions that compromised their faith. The bill - rooted in federal legislation crafted by Senator Ted Kennedy and signed into law by President Bill Clinton - passed the state legislature, but was vetoed by the governor after boycotts of the state were threatened by the likes of Hollywood studios, sports leagues and other businesses. Coca-Cola's corporate headquarters is located in Georgia.
"Thanks to Coca-Cola, ministers who oppose homosexuality as a matter of faith can be forced to perform same-sex marriages or face government wrath," said Almasi. "But you can enjoy a Coke in Saudi Arabia where homosexuality is punishable by death. How can the company claim its human rights priorities are consistent when this is the case?"
The full text of the National Center's proposal, and Coca-Cola's response to it, are available on pages 81 and 82 of the company's proxy statement, which is available for download here. It was the only shareholder-submitted proposal to be considered at the Coca-Cola meeting. The text of Almasi's prepared statement in favor of the proposal is available here, and the audio of the exchange at the meeting is available here. Today's shareholder meeting was held at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2016, the National Center's FEP brought similar proposals before shareholders at Apple, Eli Lilly, General Electric and Walmart. It also raised religious freedom issues with executives of Home Depot, Nike, PepsiCo and Red Hat. This is also not the first time the FEP has promoted a shareholder proposal at a Coca-Cola meeting. In 2016, the FEP asked Coca-Cola shareholders to consider a proposal for the company to issue a "congruency analysis" to point out and justify potentially questionable affiliations and contributions on the part of the company. The FEP has been attending Coca-Cola shareholder meetings since 2012.
Launched in 2007, the National Center for Public Policy Research's Free Enterprise Project is the nation's preeminent free-market activist group - focusing on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Since 2014, National Center representatives have participated in nearly 100 shareholder meetings to advance free-market ideals in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers' rights and many other important public policy issues. The Coca-Cola meeting marks FEP's sixth shareholder meeting attended so far in 2017. FEP Director Justin Danhof, Esq. also participated in General Electric's shareholder meeting on April 26.
The National Center's Free Enterprise Project activism has yielded a tremendous return on investment:
- FEP's highly-publicized questioning of support for the Clinton Foundation by Boeing and General Electric helped trigger an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation's activities that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign.
- FEP inquiries prompted Facebook to address political bias against conservatives in social media.
- Company executives acknowledged media bias at ABC News (Disney), the Washington Post and CNN (Time Warner) in response to FEP's challenges, which helped to bring about more objective reporting and more balanced political representation.
- FEP's "Employee Conscience Protection Project" strengthened protections for the political beliefs and activities of over five million workers at 13 major U.S. corporations.
So far in 2017, the FEP has been featured in media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Breitbart, WorldNetDaily, Drudge Report, Business Insider, CNET, National Public Radio, American Family Radio and SiriusXM. In 2016, the FEP was also featured in the Washington Times, the Fox News Channel's "Cavuto," the Financial Times, Crain's Chicago Business, the Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Newsmax, the Daily Caller, Lifezette, the Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune among many others. The Free Enterprise Project was also featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel's 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors. Sign up for email updates here. Follow us on Twitter at @NationalCenter for general announcements. To be alerted to upcoming media appearances by National Center staff, follow our media appearances Twitter account at @NCPPRMedia.