EDITORIAL | Is corporate welfare even a term?



American beverage multinational Coca Cola recently announced that it would lay off 2,200 workers, or 17 per cent of its global workforce as a part of its restructuring process.

Such announcements are usually cherished by the market because it is seen as an effort to further streamline revenue processes. The company has attributed this decision to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the cola giant’s business.

While it is nothing new for companies to be doing this, when it comes to Coca-Cola, not the slightest scratch of welfare has ever been left with the company. It is soul-sucking capitalism at its finest.

The irony of it all is that Coca Cola, and companies such as PepsiCo and Nestlé, have been accused of making zero progress concerning the reduction of plastic waste.

The firms have featured as the top plastic polluters for three years in a row now as per Break Free From Plastic’s annual audit.

Coca-Cola also saw fits of rage from various stakeholders in Tamil Nadu, a state which suffered from acute water shortage last year but also houses many plants of the firm. Despite many protests and widespread activism, it did not take too long for the firm’s beverages to be back on the shelves of shops.

Of course, all this criticism gets wonderfully covered up by stellar advertising and public relations. Suddenly, champions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) emerge as protectors of the firm’s reputation for having done significantly a lot for the public.

Apart from trendy commercials and a secret recipe which no one has been able to replicate, how does Coca Cola contribute to public welfare or the environment?

The answer is simple - it does not.

Especially now, given the fact that people have struggled financially as well because of the pandemic, to lay off people at this juncture for pleasing shareholders is not a sign of a company which cares for well-being. Intentions are, therefore, aptly clear – revenue at any cost.

Of course, why blame the firm alone for such misdoings?

It seems like, for a developing country like India, certain cracks are okay to bear, even if it means that the collateral is the bottom half of the country suffering.

On one end, our priorities have been to better our rankings for Ease of Doing Business, while on the other our workforce keeps on getting pushed day-by-day towards informalisation.

Amidst the pandemic, the World Bank had predicted that COVID-19 would push about 150 million people to extreme poverty by 2021.

And even then, it seems nothing changes for us, while we sit in front of our TV sets and enjoy delectable cuisines, that firms like Coca-Cola lay-off when people of the world are already suffering from a virus which has not yet been eradicated.

For India, are these the economic pillars we want to base our growth on?