Coca-Cola Fudges “Transparency” Numbers


Editor’s Note: Please see the update at the bottom.

Coca-Cola has made significant, unexplained changes to its scientific funding list. The soda company has dramatically increased the amounts declared to some organizations while lowering or entirely removing other payments and organizations. These changes affected payments from 2010-2015. And Coca-Cola made these changes without a single explanatory note on the site.

CrossFit Inc.’s Derek Fields compiled all of the changes that Coca-Cola made in this spreadsheet. If you would like to see the differences firsthand, you can examine the original Coca-Cola funding claims archived here and compare them to the current Coca-Cola funding claims here.

One significant difference is in Coca-Cola’s reporting of its donations to the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control. The current Coca-Cola database has entirely removed Coca-Cola’s relationship with the CDC, save one donation of $10,000 in 2015. The initial disclosure admitted to paying the CDC $2,144,862.

Since Coca-Cola would probably not have revealed imaginary CDC payments, we are inclined to believe that the large-scale Coca-Cola-CDC funding did happen. And thus the sudden disappearance of millions of CDC funding from Coca-Cola’s website raises suspicion.

In contrast, the new Coca-Cola figures nearly double the amount of money the soda company admits to giving the American College of Sports Medicine, raising the total figure from $865,000 to $1,526,000. Again, we are inclined to believe the higher figure, but the ACSM changes raise questions as well. For example, Coca-Cola lowered its claimed funding for ACSM’s “Exercise is Medicine” program in 2013 from $80,000 to $26,000. Was the initial $80,000 figure a mere mistake?

On September 22, 2015, Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas promised to reveal “how we partner with organizations and how we support scientific research on health-related issues.” While some took Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” campaign at its word, we at the Russells’ Blog read the fine print

Coca-Cola confined its Transparency to North-America-based entities that consented to the disclosures. So the list excludes scientists or institutions that were too embarrassed to be listed next to the American College of Sports Medicine, or who happen to live in other parts of the world. We tried to help Coca-Cola become more transparent by releasing funding we discovered on its tax forms, but the full extent of Coca-Cola’s influence on science is known only to The Coca-Cola Corporation.

When Douglas announced his commitment to Transparency, he promised to “update this information every six months.” But six months have not yet elapsed since September 22, 2015. And the database’s alleged “Timeframe” remains the same as it was: “January 1, 2010 through June 30, 2015.”  The current fine print still promises that “Amounts for July 1, 2015 forward will be disclosed in a future update.”

Besides, an update wouldn’t give Coca-Cola a legitimate reason to rewrite history. On what basis could Coca-Cola now undo a $681,075 payment it made to the CDC’s Foundation in 2010?

To make matters stranger, Coca-Cola has not updated its disclosure rules or aggregate figures. It still states that the “aggregate amount of funding provided to these (non-consenting) organizations over the past five years is $ 679,000.” And Douglas’ intro letter still claims the same aggregate figures, proclaiming, “we have provided $21.8 million to fund scientific research and $96.8 million to support health and well-being partnerships for a total of $118.6.” One would have expected that overhauling the right side of the equation would have affected the left side.

If the disclosure rules and scope haven’t changed, the aggregate funding totals haven’t changed, and Coca-Cola doesn’t have a time machine, how can anyone explain these significant changes to Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” database?

Given the massive scale of these changes, both sets of Coca-Cola revelations cannot be correct. Therefore, Coca-Cola unveiled false and misleading funding statistics in its Transparency database at least once. Until Coca-Cola explains its wavering Transparency database, however, we are left to speculate as to its motivation.

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Update from Derek Fields, the following day:

“Coke has taken notice and tried to update the database to combine the original one and the updated we noticed on 2/4/16.

For example, the donations to the “National Foundation for the Center for Disease Control” (appeared in archived 10/17/15 version, but not in 2/4/16 version) are back. The donation to the “CDC Foundation” (appears in 2/4/16 version but not 10/17/15 version) is no longer currently present on Coke’s site.

So the combination of the two databases is still not 100% comprehensive.
It would appear that, on the donations I’ve had time to check (I was only able to conduct an extremely cursory examination so far) that when donation amounts differed between 10/17/15 and 2/4/16 versions they’ve reverted to the 10/17/15 version numbers. ACSM donations are back at $865,000 again as well.”


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