Coca-Cola, the global firm that accounts for about 40 percent of Swaziland’s economy, has threatened to leave the kingdom because King Mswati III has demanded it give him a 10 percent stake in its Swazi subsidiary for nothing, a prodemocracy group reported on Wednesday (4 November 2015).
The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said in a statement, ‘Reliable sources within the kingdom have informed our network that the company flatly refused to yield to Mswati’s demand and would rather leave.’
It added, ‘If he does not back down from this demand Coca-Cola will be forced to relocate its operations to another country, a move that will be catastrophic for economy of the tiny impoverished kingdom and will lead to the loss of many jobs.’
It added this would worsen ‘an already desperate situation for Swazi workers’ as many of them became unemployed when the kingdom lost beneficial trading rights with the United States under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA). This was because King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, refused to allow democratic reforms in Swaziland.
Swaziland supplies the Coca-Cola concentrate (the sugary syrup the drink is made from) to most of Africa, big parts of Asia and all of Australia and New Zealand from its industrial plant in Matsapha.
Swaziland has been mortgaged to Coca-Cola (trading as Conco Swaziland) ever since it allowed the company to use it in its fight against workers’ interests in other countries. In 2009, Coca-Cola closed its concentrate supply plant in Nigeria, citing an ‘unfriendly manufacturing environment’ in that country.
It had made ‘little profits because of the high manufacturing costs’.
Coca-Cola also has an impact on the international standing of Swaziland’s economy. The money generated by Coca-Cola is what largely accounts for the kingdom being classified as a ‘lower-middle income developing country’ (and therefore not eligible for certain types of international aid), even though seven in ten of Swaziland’s one-million population live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 a day.
Peter Kenworthy, of Africa Contact, writing in 2011, said, ‘The real point, though, is that Coca-Cola is probably in Swaziland because it is a dictatorship that oppresses its unions and population. This allows wages to be kept low and unemployment high.’
Kenworthy visited one of the sugar cane fields in Eastern Swaziland, which produces sugar for Coca-Cola.
He wrote, ‘The area that I visited, Vuvulane, is managed by the Vuvulane Irrigated Farms (VIF) but the sugar cane fields are under the auspices of the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise and the Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation who lease them to individual farmers, who in turn employ casual labourers.
‘In a small village in Vuvulane, most of the adults worked in the sugar fields as casual labourers for between 400 and 550 Rand (US$40-55) per month. “This is not enough to pay for medicine, proper food or school fees for our children,” one villager told me. “Sometimes we do not eat for days. We used to have our own vegetable gardens but these were confiscated by the sugar company. We sometimes fish in the nearby dam in the evening, when it is dark. If we are caught we will be arrested as the dam is owned by the sugar cane company,” another villager said.
‘Practically none of the children in the village, who were clad in dirty and ripped clothes and looked underfed, attended school and many of the villagers, receive food aid. In addition to this, the water supply is controlled by a privately owned company that readily closes the water supply form the village if they are not paid on time.’
In 2012, the prodemocracy group the Swaziland Democracy Campaign called on Coca-Cola to leave Swaziland immediately.
SWAZILAND, SPONSORED BY COCA-COLA
COCA-COLA SUPPORTS SWAZI DICTATOR
COCA-COLA COLONISES SWAZILAND
COCA-COLA COLONISES SWAZILAND