Clown Award: Coca-Cola
FORGIVE THE LATENESS OF THIS; THERE WERE SOME TECHNICAL PROBLEMS
Now for the Clown Award, given weekly for an act of meritorious stupidity. This week, the winner of the Big Red Nose is the Coca-Cola company.
To understand why you need some background. There is real controversy over the choice of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, described, quite reasonably, as the world's largest sporting event.
Even if you go beyond the allegations of corruption and bribery in the selection process, there are the facts surrounding the medieval conditions in which the migrant workers who are building the stadiums are forced to live.
For one thing, they are paid about L6 (about $10) per day - when they get paid, that is: Some of them have not been paid in more than a year. They are squeezed seven to a room, sleeping on thin, dirty mattresses on the floor and on bunk beds, in breach of Qatar's own labor standards. They live in constant fear of arrest and imprisonment - and some have been arrested and imprisoned - because they have no paperwork ever since the contractor on the project, Lee Trading and Contracting, collapsed. They are, that is, "undocumented workers." As a result, some are now being exploited to the point of being paid as little as 50p - about 83 cents - an hour.
The work is dangerous enough and the conditions bad enough that it has been estimated that 4,000 workers will die before a single ball is kicked.
The workers can't even leave: Even if one of them somehow had the money to go, they can't leave the country without the permission of the government and their employer.
Enter Coca-Cola, which is one of the major international corporate sponsors of the World Cup. Noting that for these workers, a phone call home can cost as much as 91 cents a minute while also saying the average income for these workers is about $6 a day, the company put together this supposedly feel-good commercial called "Hello Happiness," featuring workers using a Coke-designed phone booth where one Coke plastic bottle cap pays for a 3-minute international phone call.
The tagline to the commercial is "Happiness is a Coca-Cola and a phone call home." There is of course no mention of how much you have to pay to get the bottle of Coke to get the cap or of how much more soda the company expects to sell as a result of this.
But beyond that, set against a backdrop of corruption, bribery, exploitation, death, and what amounts to modern slavery, the executives and ad managers of the Coca-Cola corporation have decided that all people really need is a bottle of Coke and a phone call and everything is fine. Which is either inhumanly callous or - and you have to hope this is the reason because it's the better alternative - an example of missing the point on a truly galactic scale.
In either event, Coca-Cola: You are a clown.
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