Coke: Ethical Issues


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Case Details:

Case Code : BECG014
Case Length : 12 Pages
Period : 1999 - 2001
Pub. Date : 2002
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : Coke, Belgian Health Ministry
Industry : Food and Beverage
Countries : Belgium

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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"Our product is quite healthy. Fluid replenishment is a key to health. Coke does a great service because it encourages people to take in more and more liquids."

- Michael Douglas Ivester, Coke's Chairman and CEO.

"Public schools are funded by the public to educate the children as provided by state law. It is totally inappropriate that its facilities and employees are being used by corporations to increase their own profits on public time and with public dollars."

- Dr. Brita Butler-Wall, Executive Director, Citizens' Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools, US.

The Recall

On June 13, 1999, Coca-Cola (Coke) recalled over 15 million cans and bottles after the Belgian Health Ministry announced a ban on Coke's drinks, which were suspected of making more than 100 school children ill in the preceding six days.

This recall was in addition to the 2.5 million bottles that had already been recalled in the previous week. The company's products namely Coke, Diet Coke and Fanta had been bottled in Antwerp, Ghent and Wilrijk, Belgium while some batches of Coke, Diet Coke, Fanta and Sprite were also produced in Dunkirk, France.

Children at six schools in Belgium had complained of headache, nausea, vomiting and shivering which ultimately led to hospitalization after drinking Coke's beverages.

Most of them reported an 'unusual odor' and an 'off-taste' in the drink. In a statement to Reuters, Marc Pattin, a spokesman for the Belgian Health Ministry explained the seriousness of the issue: "Another 44 children had become ill with stomach pains, 42 of them at a school in Lochristi, near Ghent, northwest Belgium. We have had five or six cases of poisoning of young people who had stomach pain after drinking (the suspect beverages)."In the same week, the governments of France, Spain and Luxembourg also banned Coke's products while Coke's Dutch arm recalled all products that had come from its Belgium plant.

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