Coke buys stake in ‘ethical’ drinks firm

Coca-Cola faces allegations about labor abuses as well as health and environmental concerns.
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest soft drinks group, has bought a minority stake in Innocent, the British fruit drink and "smoothie" maker that boasts of its ethical stance.

Innocent said on its Web site the U.S. firm had paid £30 million ($44 million) for a stake of “between 10 and 20 percent” to fund plans to expand in Europe. Innocent employs 275 people, has a turnover of more than £100 million and sells about two million smoothies each week. Its three founders, who set up the company 10 years by selling smoothies at a London music festival, insisted its ethical stance would not be compromised and they would continue to run and manage the business. Are ethics and business compatible Tell us what you think “Every promise that Innocent has made — about making only natural healthy products, pioneering the use of better, socially and environmentally aware ingredients, packaging and production techniques, donating money to charity and having a point of view on the world — will remain,” co-founder Richard Reed said. “We’ll just get to do them even more.” Coca-Cola “has been in business for over 120 years, so there will be things we can learn from them. And in some small ways we may be able to influence their thinking too.” James Quincey, group business unit president for Coca-Cola Europe, said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to invest in Innocent’s future. We have long admired their brand, their products and their unique approach to business.” But the investment is sure to open up Innocent to charges that its ideals are being diluted. Coca-Cola has been criticized over negative health effects resulting from consumption of its products. It has also faced allegations about labor abuses in Colombia and environmental concerns in India, among other places. Sales of Coke are holding up well amid the global economic crisis thanks to strong growth in China and India. In February the company reported a 4 percent rise in sales volumes in the last three months of 2008 and a 10 percent increase in comparable earnings.