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Have a Coke and a Smile? Maybe Not.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

By Alex Formuzis, EWG Director of Communications

Do big corporations care about what large blocks of their shareholders have to say about company practices? I don't know. I've never worked for one.

But I know politicians do. I've worked for four, and each did their dead-level best to take the pulse of their constituents every single day.

At Coca-Cola's annual shareholders' meeting last month, nearly a quarter of them called on the beverage behemoth to come clean about its use of bisphenol-A (BPA) in the linings of its cans. These concerned investors voted for a resolution urging Coke to make public how it is responding to the growing public anxiety over its use of the toxic, gender-bending chemical.

Coke thinks shareholders don't need to know - even though they asked Coke, being Coke, decided that this wasn't information that those who invest in the company should be privy to.

"We do not believe the information requested in the proposal would be useful to our shareholders," a spokesman for the company said in a statement.

Why on Earth would shareholders or future investors need to know about what industrial pollutants are in the products their customers drink?

Ignoring BPA is bad business Michael Passoff, a spokesman for As You Sow, one of three organizations promoting corporate social responsibility that pushed the resolution, drove home an important point:

"Coke should be concerned about where these resolutions are headed over the long term. The main implication of the resolution is that Coke is an industry laggard, and shareholders like to invest their money with leaders not laggards."

Passoff noted that this was only the first of many BPA resolutions that the company's shareholders will vote on.

Coke's trying to stop state BPA bans - but it's not working Last year, Coca-Cola, several of its competitors in the beverage biz and chemical industry representatives met at a D.C. social club where they hatched a plot to kill state-level efforts to restrict the use of BPA in certain products designed for young children. (It isn't working, by the way).

Not long after word of the closed-door meeting broke in the press, EWG president Ken Cook sent a letter to Coke's Chairman and CEO, Muhtar Kent, calling on him to take immediate steps to reduce children's exposure to BPA. The next month, several top execs from the Atlanta office jumped on a plane to D.C. for a two-hour meeting with EWG -- where they assured my colleagues that they understood our concerns and were trying hard to find an alternative to BPA.

EWG's advice to Coke Try harder. That's what every teacher I've ever had told me, and that's what your shareholders are telling you.

[Thanks to dan1710 on Flickr for the can image]

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