Undrinkable Coke? Corporate Scandals, Civil Society and Cultural Difference

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Carlo TOGNATO , Sociology & Center for Social Studies, National University of Colombia, Bogota, Colombia
Over the past two decades corporate (mis)behaviour, scandals and accidents have stirred passionate debates around the world over the limits of corporate practices. By shaping public opinion over this issue, civil societies have sustained the action of those agents of civil repair, both outside and inside corporations, who have sought to resist and correct corporate malpractices. So far, social movement scholars have explored the cultural resources that social actors tap into for the purpose of mobilizing public opinion over these issues. Impression management scholars, on their part, have looked into the verbal accounts by which corporations seek to defend their legitimacy in public. Very seldom, though, have analysts accounted for the deep cultural metrics of legitimacy on which actors on both sides draw in public debates to win the support of their fellow-citizens and, when they have, they have mostly focused on the discursive structures that underpin the working of civil societies in well-established liberal democracies. Given the global horizon of transnational corporations, however, corporate crises have been increasingly occurring in Third World contexts within which different discursive structures compete to orient the functioning of civil society. In this paper I will focus on a scandal that had a far-reaching impact on international public opinion a decade ago and that hit Coca-Cola as a result of the accusation against its local bottlers in Colombia for using illegal paramilitary groups to intimidate, threaten and eliminate some vocal trade-unionists. I will show that the participants to the public debate in Colombia over the role and responsibility of Coca-Cola drew from two alternative discursive structures that contributed to orient local public opinion: the liberal discourse of civil society and the corporatist discourse of the hacienda.