A beverage for thought

A HOME volunteer encourages us to think about the recent Coca Cola advert. The view represented is the writers own, not that of HOME as an organisation. 

Coca Cola has long championed happiness. This has manifested itself in many ways, including a vending machine at a Singapore campus that gave a free Coke can when hugged. Earlier this year, the brand extended its message to construction workers in Singapore and Dubai. In Singapore, they dropped Coke cans with messages of appreciation from the community onto construction sites via drones. In Dubai, recognizing the high cost of making calls back home, they put up temporary phone booths where workers could get 3 minutes of free talk time in exchange for a bottle cap of Coke. 

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Both activities have seen polarized reactions. From applaud for recognizing the workers, to criticism for exploiting them. There is merit in both arguments. Construction workers are often exploited by agents who extract a high placement fee and by companies who offer low wages, and poor living and working conditions. Asking workers to buy a bottle of Coke, which they may not have otherwise bought, does seem unfair even if it was for free talk time.

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An objective view would submit that there was a positive side to this campaign. Construction workers are a much needed but invisible workforce in places like Singapore and Dubai, and local residents are often unaware of their circumstances. While their goal may not have been entirely altruistic, Coke has helped draw attention to the life of construction workers and made them visible. Being able to create this kind of awareness for a social cause is difficult to do. Driving public engagement is even harder. Non-profit organizations must recognize this, as much as commercial organizations must become more sensitive to causes they associate with.

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Continuing to focus on Coke’s motives and actions would be to lose sight of the core issue. The right thing for non-profits supporting this cause would be to leverage the awareness and engagement that has been created and lobby for better laws and fairness in the way migrant workers are treated.

And while another can of Coca Cola will not save the world, making someone happy, albeit briefly, cannot be that bad.

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