Wealth & Poverty Review Coca-Cola Controversy: Doing Good Through Business

A new Coca-Cola ad has plunged the company headfirst into a debate over labor practices with a new video, “Hello Happiness.” The video tells the story of migrant workers in Dubai and how Coke is trying to make their lives a little better.
As many are aware, it’s common for South Asian workers to relocate to the UAE (and the other surrounding Arab countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia) to find better jobs and earn money to send back home to their families. In fact, a shocking 90% of UAE’s labor force consists of such migrant workers–a result of the UAE’s guest worker program that allows companies to hire foreigners that are looking for work, most of them coming from dire poverty in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Though poor working conditions and exploitative practices are common in Dubai, Coca-Cola is doing its part to raise the standard. The company installed an international telephone booth that will enable employees to call home at an affordable rate so they can talk with their families more often. By inserting one Coke bottle cap into the phone booth as currency, a worker can use the phone for 3 minutes. Even when assuming that the worker obtains a cap by purchasing a bottle of Coke at market value (as opposed to recycling a cap from elsewhere), this still significantly lowers the cost of the call. With a little basic math, we can figure that if a bottle of Coke costs about 54 cents USD, the workers are making a phone call (and drinking a Coke) at around 18 cents a minute–just a fraction of the UAE rate, which can get up to 91 cents a minute. Watch the video below:

Is this just some marketing tactic? Many seem to think so. Others are responding very positively–because although Coke obviously gets some PR leverage out of the video, what matters more is the positive impact that they’re having. Coke is showing how business can create good where it’s needed most–in some aspect, responding to consumers who have voiced their demand for businesses to act responsibly and ethically. Would we prefer these stories to go untold, or can we allow overlap between business and charity?