Coca-Cola Pops the Top on First Burma Bottling Operation in 60 Years

A factory worker inspects packages of Coca-Cola bottles on a conveyer belt at the new Coca-Cola plant in Rangoon on June 4, 2013. (Photo: Sean Havey / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Bottles rolled down the assembly line in packs of 12, the first Coca-Cola products made in Burma in more than 60 years, as the US beverage behemoth became the most high-profile international company to date to re-enter a market long closed off to Western investment.

Coca-Cola on Tuesday inaugurated a bottling facility in Rangoon’s Hmawbi Township, pledging to employ 2,500 people directly and create 22,000 jobs across its supply chain.

“As global as Coca-Cola is, we operate a local business in more than 200 nations around the world,” Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said outside the new bottling plant on Tuesday. “And the cornerstone, the key success factor for being a local business, is producing, distributing, selling and employing locally.”

Coca-Cola is partnering with local firm Pinya Manufacturing in the venture, and plans to invest more than US$200 million in its Burma operations over the next five years. The company will open up a second factory in Burma within the next month, Kent said before a gathering that included Myint Swe, Rangoon Division’s chief minister, as well as Rangoon Mayor Hla Myint and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“This is an important moment for Myanmar, a moment not just for the Coca-Cola Company, but for the city of Yangon as well,” Myint Swe said, describing the partnership as a “blueprint” for future responsible investment.

Coca-Cola began shipping its globally recognized bottles and cans into Burma in September, also for the first time in more than six decades.

Plans for a bottling plant inside the country were made public in June of last year, and Tuesday marked a realization of that aspiration, reaffirming the company’s reputation as a first mover into emerging markets—however risky the enterprise might be.

In the case of Burma, those risks are notable. Political uncertainty, frequent blackouts, underdeveloped infrastructure and the government’s poor human rights record all pose potential challenges for the plant in Hmawbi Township.

Last month, Human Rights Watch cautioned US companies against rushing to invest in the former pariah nation, saying: “Doing business in Burma involves various human rights risks that the US rules do not fully address,” referring to recently enacted requirements from the US government that dictate conditions that US companies investing in Burma must meet.

HRW said those risks “include the lack of rule of law and an independent judiciary, major tensions over the acquisition and use of land, and disregard of community concerns in government-approved projects. The military’s extensive involvement in the economy, use of forced labor, and abusive security practices in business operations heightens concerns. Corruption is pervasive throughout the country.”

Coca-Cola appears intent on heading off such concerns.

“The Coca-Cola Company’s well-established global standards for corporate ethics are being incorporated into Coca-Cola’s business practices in Myanmar,” it said in a statement on Tuesday. “This includes strict adherence to its global human and workplace rights policy, supplier guiding principles, code of business conduct and anti-bribery policies.”

The US beverage maker has never been one to shy away from frontier markets. In a June 2012 announcement that the company’s charity arm would partner with an NGO in Burma, Kent touted Coca-Cola’s pioneering spirit.

“From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the establishment of normal US relations with Vietnam to the positive changes we are seeing today in Myanmar, Coca-Cola has proudly been there to refresh, invest, partner and bring hope for a better tomorrow,” he said.

On Tuesday, the company touted those charitable works in Burma, where since last year the Coca-Cola Foundation has given $3 million to the women’s empowerment NGO Pact.

Kent said on Tuesday that 10,000 women in Burma had begun their own businesses in the year since Coca-Cola inked the partnership with Pact. Their joint effort, known as Swan Yi, aims to empower 25,000 women over three years, with a focus on “financial literacy, entrepreneurship and business management.”

With the company’s entry into Burma, Cuba and North Korea remain the only two nations in the world where Coca-Cola is not legally manufactured or distributed.

7 Responses to Coca-Cola Pops the Top on First Burma Bottling Operation in 60 Years

  1. The reason Americans are so fat is because they have been priced out of healthy food. They get to live off of cheap food and drink, loaded with high fructose corn syrup, sold to them by multi national corporations like Coca Cola.

    High fructose corn syrup is toxic, as recent research by scientist at the University of California has proven. The industrial production process and creation was made by Dr.Yoshiyuki Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan in 1965–1970.

  2. I no longer drink Coke and Pepsi. Bottled Water is the best drink every living being can get. Burma has plenty of water from streams and rivers. Clean it and drink it.

  3. Many Americans are shying away from these soft drinks which are too sweet and posing health hazards…since the markets are getting more sophisticated with health conscious people opting for plain water… is very sad to see the impact it will have on Burmese health system which is in shambles…WHO had published some years ago about ASians turning towards the western soft drinks while neglecting the benefits of fresh fruits…Diabetes, Blood Pressure are on the rise in Burma and we will be facing major problems in the health-care system if this continues….Reforms hopefully are meant to bring in positive things and not things that would lead to erosion in our future generation’s health.

    Why could not Coca-Cola diversify into nutritious and tasty fruit juices in Burma by utilizing the fresh fruits which are in abundance…they will be doing the country a great service

  4. Introducing Coca Cola may been good for the economy but extremely hazardous to the health of the country. Regular coke is loaded with sugar and diabetes in Myanmar population is already hitting the roof. it is like adding fuel to the fire.

    The diet version is also bad because of the aspartame. In the body aspartame is converted into formic acid and formaldehyde which can cause cancer.

    Water is best but nowadays water may be fluoridated and besides the plastic leeches from the bottle especially in hot weather. Fluoride is a known brain toxin and also competes with iodine for the receptors in the thyroid, breast, prostate and ovaries. Iodine deficiency is rampant with the rise in breast,prostate and thyroid cancers.It is also not true that fluoride prevents cavities but cause dental fluorosis.The best thing is to use the reverse osmosis system for water at home and avoid plastic bottles.

    The point I am making is that we are being bombarded by toxins everywhere. So protect yourself if you want to survive in this toxic environment.

  5. I think Coca-Cola should make use of the abundant fruits here and make real fruit juices whci would help the people become healthier and also contribute to the development of the country.

  6. Even natural fruit juices are loaded with sugar. Sugar is more lethal than fat as far as one’s health is concerned. It is the number enemy for those with cancer because cancer cells thrive on sugar and acidic conditions. It is the basis for PET scan where cancer cells group up to injected sugar tagged radio active substance. Sugar, with its accompanying insulin spike is the worst enemy for all of us.

    Just drink plain old water. It is the best.

  7. What we will get
    1) More garbage
    2) More unhealthy peoples, more health problems, more spending needed on health care
    3) Due to very hot and dry climate, children & peoples want to drink making family problems out of tiny income of most Myanmar families; more money flow from poor to rich
    4) Next generations of unhealthy peoples with habit of drinking and eating junk food – plus associated complex problems
    5) Process of manufacturing, logistic, transport, marketing, etc. of these bad products destroy our little-left nature and green surroundings. We have less and less green environment
    6) Some peoples get the job and income by working in this chain to sell the harmful products to their fellow citizens. We get the attitude of “making money and don’t care what happens to others and the country” – “irresponsibility” mindset grows
    7) When these rich peoples use a small percentage of their huge profit to donate to our schools and hospitals, etc. then love, respect, trust, etc. will flow from poor to these rich. So they win multiple times and we the public and country lose multiple times

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