CONCERNING AND CONSUMING PEPSI


Like students at Victoria, Burmese students can always pop down to the nearest vending machine on campus to buy a Pepsi. Unlike Victoria students, Burmese students are dying in their struggle to promote democracy in the face of Burma's brutal military dictatorship - the Orwellian named State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

The connection between students, an oppressive military regime, and a soft-drink company may appear surreal, but PepsiCo has been doing successful business on Burmese campuses ever since SLORC opened up the Burmese economy to the outside world. In return for a market monopoly, PepsiCo sponsored SLORC's first ever trade exposition in 1994.

PepsiCo isn't the only company to enjoy special privileges in exploiting Burma's hitherto untouched economy. Oil giants Unocal, Texaco (Caltex), ARCO, and Total all signed agreements to share Burma's wealth of oil reserves while logging interests moved quickly to capitalise on some of the world's last remaining virgin Teak forests.

In doing business in Burma, PepsiCo (and others) must necessarily align themselves with the current military regime. Despite PepsiCo's plea that, "we like to stay out of politics", the multinational cannot avoid the implications of such a close working arrangement. PepsiCo's dealings with SLORC lends legitimacy to a regime that routinely practices rape, torture, and murder in repressing all democratic freedoms (Karen Human Rights Group). The taxes and preference payments PepsiCo makes to the government allow SLORC to equip themselves with weaponry to further subjugate the Burmese people. And finally, in failing to speak out about (well-documented) human rights abuses in Burma, PepsiCo lends tacit approval to such abuses.

PepsiCo has been provided with ample precedent to withdraw from Burma. In 1992, Levi Strauss & Co. withdrew its textile business stating, "It is not possible to do business in [Burma] without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights." Other companies have followed citing similar reasoning. They include: The Bank of Nova Scotia, Macy's Department Store, Eddie Bauer Clothing, and Petro-Canada. PepsiCo has remained quietly intransigent on the possibility of withdrawing from Burma. Feeling exasperated, a profusion of human rights groups are now calling for a boycott of PepsiCo as a final expression of dissatisfaction with the behaviour of this multinational in Burma.

Students at Victoria will have the chance later in the year to meet a Burmese student involved in the democratic movement. Until then, we can show sympathy with the plight of students in Burma fighting for democracy by choosing not to buy PepsiCo products.

Robert Bentz Ashe

PepsiCo has developed close links with academic institutions, like Victoria University, based on the clear economic motivation that students are high consumers of soft-drinks. Like in Burma, to achieve a near monopoly of the market, PepsiCo has a sponsorship agreement with Victoria's Student Union amounting to $34,000. In return for the funding of the numerous information kiosks, PepsiCo is granted access to all vending sites on campus (except those in the cafeterias).

Pepsi-Cola Bottlers NZ is a wholly owned subsidiary of PepsiCo Incorporated, USA. PepsiCo owns the following companies: Pepsi, 7-Up, Mountain Dew, Pizza Hut, Lipton, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Crush, and Frito-Lay. Call them on their New Zealand toll-free number 0800-800-880, but don't expect any answers.



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