Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: When your product benefits health, George, I'll show you some respect

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Let's face it, Coca-Cola markets sugar syrup mixed with water to teenagers. Photo / Thinkstock
Let's face it, Coca-Cola markets sugar syrup mixed with water to teenagers. Photo / Thinkstock

Isn't there something ungracious about a highly remunerated manager from an international corporation coming to live among us for several years then, on his way out, bad-mouthing us, saying we weren't giving him enough respect?

The outgoing Coca-Cola boss, George Adams, lamented that we Kiwis didn't have the same adulation for multinational corporations that they have for themselves.

He was nonplussed that we don't appreciate the important role he has played and the good he and his sugar drink empire has bestowed upon us.

Adams was born in the British-occupied portion of Ireland: it's in his DNA to reflect the sentiments of colonial masters.

For centuries, they have claimed they weren't plundering less-endowed countries but were, in fact, exporting civilisation to the great unwashed.

For that the natives ought to be grateful and appreciative of their benevolent betters.

New Zealanders front up over half a billion dollars each year for Adams' employer and, in 2011, our patronage made his profits jump almost 50 per cent to a cool $66.6 million.

I thought Adams would have thanked us for making him look so good to his international bosses who, presumably on that performance, have promoted him to an even better-remunerated position in Europe.

But, like certain personality types who infest these roles, they want us to honour them, too. Isn't their money, power and privilege enough? It's not as if they are doing anything extraordinary or indeed remarkable. It isn't even socially beneficial.

Let's face it, Coca-Cola markets sugar syrup mixed with water to teenagers, rotting their teeth, giving them spotty skin and making them fat.

At the same time it brainwashes them through clever advertisements and branding campaigns using beautiful and cool peers with perfect smiles, unblemished skin and beach bodies to die for.

The message drilled into their naive subconscious is to be cool, popular and happy you have to drink this wonder drink.

Few pre-teens and teenagers can resist that siren call. It helps that once the sugar addiction kicks in, it can be as strong as tobacco dependency.

Every health professional knows the body doesn't need sugar at all.

A bottle of Coke a day will each month add more than a kilo of lard around a customer's belly unless they can burn it off by putting in a run of 14 hours. No wonder obesity in our children is skyrocketing.

And we're supposed to be grateful?

Despite the endless advertising and positive media about corporations, we just can't seem to buy into the love people like Adams crave.

Maybe it's because we know multinationals have only one motive: to make money for the faceless investors who expect to be rewarded handsomely for doing no work themselves.

Maybe we can't ignore the fact that chief executives and their boards abuse their power and privileges by awarding themselves massive incomes and, at the same time, screw the workers who actually make the money for them.

Maybe it's because they use their size to bully governments and councils to give them advantages that small businesses don't get.

Maybe it's because once they can dominate a market, they use their power to charge what they like.

And maybe it's because when you get shoddy service you don't get to speak to anyone responsible but to some hapless call centre worker in a developing country paid a pittance to absorb your helpless rage.

But we are also a friendly bunch, too. To show it's not personal I'd be happy to take Adams' bags to the airport. I'll even doff my cloth cap if that would make him feel better.


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- Herald on Sunday

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