A Stain on Philanthropy

“Every Pepsi refreshes the world.” Lately, I’ve heard and seen this catchphrase everywhere, from radio ads to bus stop posters. The slogan promotes the Pepsi Refresh Project, a social marketing campaign in which people can submit “refreshing ideas that change the world” with hopes of being funded by Pepsi. The corporation has a whole website dedicated to interactive voting for such ideas and even chose not to advertise during the Super Bowl, instead putting the advertising dollars towards the social welfare project. It all sounds so benevolent, right? Let me just start by saying that I have absolutely no problem with philanthropy. I think giving money to socially conscious initiatives and programs is a wonderful idea. I am not, in any way, advocating against changing the world for the better. Projects of the aforementioned nature are, however, fundamentally problematic. It seems as if the whole project is a marketing campaign. It is, at best, a positive way to spend Pepsi’s profits and, at worst, a creative advertising gimmick designed to manipulate a consumer’s guilty conscious. Essentially, the project is a blatant exercise in hypocrisy. Pepsi is a major corporation in a capitalist society. The primary goal of any company in such an environment is to make money. They accomplish this through the creation and subsequent targeting of certain markets, as well as the use of cheap materials and production methods. The rather ironic result is that corporations create and exacerbate many of the problems that their social welfare programs try to fix. For example, assume that someone proposed a project that fights obesity through school systems. Soft drinks, including those from Pepsi and its affiliated brands, are in vending machines throughout American public schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee says that 85% of children consume at least one 12-oz can of soda per day, and other sources claim that many drink at least two. Soft drinks are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country, especially among children, making their sale in schools a huge health problem. And do you know who benefits from all of this? Pepsi. Isn’t that a major conflict of interest? Any program to fight obesity should be fundamentally opposed to a company that makes money from making people obese. By participating, they are basically advertising for a company that hurts their cause. What about any sustainability initiative? Overproduction and consumption of plastic products is contributing to a depletion of natural resources and a rise in greenhouse gasses. Pepsi’s drinks come in plastic bottles, and they use countless tons of plastic to produce their product. This stands in stark contrast to the programs they are trying to promote. So what does this all mean? Of course, Pepsi is a corporation, and its fundamental goal is to sell a product and make money. I’m not arguing that Pepsi should just cease to exist because it’s not good for people and the environment. What bothers me is flagrant corporate hypocrisy and the attempt to create an image of generosity and benevolence. This corporate hypocrisy highlights a general misunderstanding of the concept of charity. Charity is a result of good will and genuine concern for those afflicted by tragedy. The idea of profiting from charity is both selfish and paradoxical. Through their charity and relief efforts, multinational corporations are hiding what is essentially a self-promotion campaign behind the guise of philanthropy. This violates the very spirit of an admirable undertaking. So, could a soda really make the world a better place? My answer is no. Elizabeth Goldsmith is a two-year Upper from Watertown, MA.