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AIDS-Free World versus Coca-Cola

This is a story of which AIDS-Free World is justly proud. It is, we feel, a dramatic testament to the power of principled advocacy.

Since April 24th, 2011—when Sizzla, a Jamaican Dancehall performer, sang an anthem calling for the murder of gays and lesbians at a concert sponsored by Coca-Cola in Montego Bay, Jamaica—AIDS-Free World has demanded that the multinational corporation denounce the performance, apologize for the irreparable harm caused by putting an international microphone in the hands of a violent bigot, and create institutional safeguards to guarantee that performers like Sizzla never cash a Coca-Cola paycheck again.

In what proved to be an often aggressive, year-long advocacy campaign, composed of dozens of letters, emails, phone calls, and speeches, AIDS-Free World turned an unforgiving spotlight on Coca-Cola’s corporate negligence. AIDS-Free World can now report that Coca-Cola has completely revised its sponsorship practices. An entirely new Global Music Sponsorship and Musical Performance Agreement Policy has been developed and approved for implementation in the 206 countries where Coca-Cola operates. This overdue policy, if executed diligently, ends Coca-Cola’s implicit approval of the ongoing stigmatization and brutalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the world by performers of “Murder Music.”

A year later, we count among our advocacy victories the following:
• an official acknowledgement of the grievous lack of oversight in Coca-Cola’s world-wide music sponsorship;
• a restatement of a corporate-wide commitment to LGBT equality;
• a published public apology;
• and lastly, a well-crafted and comprehensive global policy that outlines in detail Coca-Cola’s goal to “participate in music sponsorships and musical performance agreements that are free from controversy, discrimination, violence or the promotion of violence, and political or religious divisions.”

The Coca-Cola Company’s new policy establishes a careful process by which Review Teams will conduct research on all parties involved in sponsored music events and will assess many factors, including “violence to or degradation of any class of people (based on gender, race, sexual orientation).”

It felt like an eternity in coming, but we recognize that Coca-Cola’s new Global Music Sponsorship Policy is an accurate reflection of its growing commitment to respecting the human rights of all men and women around the world, regardless of sexual orientation. Every corporation that claims to be concerned about HIV should be held to similar account.

Download a copy of this statement (PDF, 129K)