PepsiCo made headlines last week after it was announced that anti-poverty advocate Darren Walker would be joining its board. While PepsiCo execs are milking this for as much positive publicity as they can, many advocates are skeptical.
Highlights from The New York Times‘ coverage:
- “In speeches and writings, Mr. Walker quotes civil rights leaders and employs soaring rhetoric to call for a more just and equitable society. Since being appointed to his Ford Foundation post in 2013, he has directed much of its ample resources to combating inequality in its many forms — from unequal access to government to unfair treatment of women. So it seemed discordant to some critics when, this month, Mr. Walker joined the board of PepsiCo.”
- “For Darren, who’s making his case as a reformer, making the case of real change, I don’t know why he’d do this,” said Michael Edwards, a former Ford Foundation executive who now writes about philanthropy. “There’s a risk that he will be viewed as inconsistent.”
- “Yet Pepsi also has a history of questionable behavior. The company has lobbied against public health legislation targeting the obesity epidemic. It has also been accused of sourcing palm oil from unethical suppliers and engaging in deceptive marketing, practices the company has since taken steps to remedy.”
- “They are saying they want these problems solved, while at the same time lobbying against public health legislation that would help solve these problems,” said Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and a co-writer of a recent paper on the soda industry. “It’s exactly the same thing the tobacco companies did. It’s exactly the same thing the alcohol companies are doing.”
- “Mr. Walker said that as a Pepsi director, he planned to be as righteous in the corporate boardroom as he said he tries to be in his Ford Foundation office. These are lucrative posts. Pepsi directors make between $275,000 and $418,000 a year. (The Ford Foundation paid Mr. Walker $789,000 last year.)”
- “Some critics contend that such arrangements are simply ways for companies to neutralize potential detractors. “The best tactic is to bring your critics into the fold,” Mr. Edwards said. “It’s a great way of managing your reputation and softening your image.”
- “Ms. Nooyi says she is trying to make Pepsi a better company. This month, Pepsi pledged to further reduce the amount of sugar, fat and salt in its products by 2025. She is also working to reduce the company’s environmental impact, improve conditions for workers and use Pepsi’s heft to support various health and social welfare initiatives.”
- “But as hard as she and her directors may try to instill high-minded values throughout the company, Pepsi is still a for-profit corporation with a quarter of a million employees working to sell sugary, fatty snacks. At such a sprawling operation, some unsavory activity seems inevitable.”
- “This is the way corporations operate,” said Mr. Siegel of Boston University. “Pepsi is not in the business of public health; they’re in the business of selling soda.”
The idea of neutralizing potential detractors is particularly important to us. While we’re glad PepsiCo is no longer a premier sponsor of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we are still concerned about a $5,000 research grant awarded to the Academy by PepsiCo.