Are People the Product in the Latest Coca-Cola OFW Campaign?

Yes, I cried when I watched this.

There’s a moment at 2:14 when Joe Marie is recognized by his female relative, and that glimmer was the gatekeeper for the rest of my tears.  What was so touching about this video was seeing the stories of these particular Filipinos, and knowing that these stories reflect a similar narrative found the millions of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) who long to be with their families, especially during this holiday season.

When I watch this, I think about a close friend who is finally spending time with her father in the Philippines after a year and a half of being apart.   I think about the women of Kabalikat who have created new homes here in the NYC area. I think about the ones who are being forced to return. I think about  the ones who will never return.  I think about my own family spread across continents.

Then towards the end of this extended commercial, I found myself becoming a bit angry.

The anger came from no longer being able to identify what was being sold in this ad.  While they were passing  liter bottles of Coca-Cola around the lechon, was Coca-Cola actually selling the idea of selling people abroad? Were people the product?

As an international conglomerate, doesn’t Coke create the circumstances that exploit workers, and force economic migration for Filipinos?  I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard a thing or two about Coca-Cola using maneuvers to take advantage of their workers.  Specifically: (source)

Dole Philippines, Coca-Cola, and countless other corporations have used contract labor as a systematic tactic to undermine unions and avoid taking responsibility for their workers. 

…These outsourced workers do not have the right to unionize and thus, the unions in the many of the bottling plants are slowly disappearing. The ILO recommends that the company limit the number of contract workers and to assure that current contract workers are provided the same rights and benefits as regular workers. The union in one plant has been able to limit the number of contract workers at their facility through collective bargaining.

The inability to unionize and create secure positions (outside of contractual work) within the Philippines is a major factor why there living wage is extremely low, and doesn’t include reasonable access to other basic needs.  Now, imagine that this is a common practice between all foreign multi-national companies on which the Philippines relies.  It’s not good news for the average Filipino worker.  (This happens in a lot of places, too. Please read more about the murdered union leaders at the Coca-Cola plant in Colombia.  )

The well crafted title of this campaign “Where Will Happiness Strike Next?” bumps the relevance of any search combining “Coca-Cola” and “strike.”  The truth becomes hidden, and no longer are we linked to the friction Coca-Cola created in Columbia, the harassment at sugar cane farms in the Philippines, or anything documenting the poor labor practices in any of these countries.   That, of course, was a pretty strategic move on Coca-Cola’s ad agency’s end. (But if it wasn’t then they should TOTALLY give me credit for making the connection.)

While I think it was wonderful to reunite these 3 families, we are still saying that the remittance economy is the ultimate model for keeping an entire country afloat. We’re back to the beginning where we applaud the Filipino worker for leaving, without creating agreements and protections for safe working conditions.  Instead, we should demand the Philippines create sustainable economic opportunities for national industries – jobs that  employ Filipinos, and provide for the Philippines.


What do you think about this Coca-Cola commercial?  Leave a comment below.


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