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Sustainability Showcase Series - Susan Greenhalgh
Making China Safe for Coke: Hidden Perils of Health Partnerships with Industry

Susan Greenhalgh (she/her/hers), Department of Anthropology and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

Partnerships are key to meeting sustainable development goals, but who should be in these collaborations? Two decades ago, when the World Health Organization began tackling the global obesity epidemic, it insisted that food and beverage corporations partner with national governments to slow the epidemic. Yet those same corporations, working through global scientific nonprofits, have sometimes taken advantage of their access to quietly distort the science and policy of obesity to protect profits on junk foods and sugary drinks that are actively contributing to the obesity crisis.

In this talk, I tell the story of how the Coca-Cola Company, working through an industry-funded scientific nonprofit based in DC but with branches around the world, managed to shape China’s science and policy on obesity to emphasize physical activity over dietary restraint as the solution to the obesity problem – one few experts accept. While presenting itself as a legitimate nonprofit, the food industry’s chief scientific nonprofit offered numerous hidden back-channels through which Coke and other junk food companies were able to influence China’s health policy. In China, transnational companies have been profiting from the obesity epidemic while doing little to effectively treat or prevent it.

The Coke case suggests the hidden perils of “partnership,” the need to unpack the actual structure and workings of organizations registered as “nonprofits,” and the challenges of holding corporations accountable for their impact on health and health equity around the world.

Feb 26, 2021 12:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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