Statement: Dr. Yolandra Hancock speaks at 2021 Pepsi Annual Meeting

Good morning CEO Laguarta, trustees, and shareholders. My name is Dr. Yolandra Hancock. Thank you for the opportunity today to again on behalf of Harrington Investments, as last year, appeal for your support on proxy item #5: the issuance of a report on sugar and public health. With a “yes” vote, PepsiCo can help tell the world that its rhetoric on public health, race, and even democracy is not just window dressing.

You’ll recall, the “Choice of a New Generation” was Pepsi’s slogan in the mid-’80s. The corporation spared no expense, featuring the purposeful selection of mega-stars like Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, to raise up the next generation of soda drinkers, particularly young people of color.

Flash forward nearly 40 years later, the slogan may have changed but the pursuit of our Black and brown communities and the collateral damage from this targeted marketing has not. The consequences have been painfully obvious over the past three decades since this campaign launched as rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity skyrocketed, with the incidence of obesity in the U.S. increased by 70% over the last 30 years for adults and by 85% over the same time period for children, even higher among African Americans.

The consequences have also been devastatingly deadly, particularly over the past year as we all bared witness to the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths among communities of color, where chronic diseases linked to sugary-drink consumption, such as obesity, have served as leading risk factors.

During the pandemic, while lobbying against public health policies, PepsiCo asked the governments in Latin America for support to maintain the production of its unhealthy products during the lockdown, yet again putting profits over public health. This is a global issue as sugary beverages are the primary source of total sugar intake from processed foods.

While you made record profits, we have experienced record-breaking deaths in this country and abroad as we watch the utter devastation of what is now happening in countries like India — what PepsiCo refers to as an “expansion market” —where, even before the pandemic, sugary drinks were associated with a dichotomy of obesity and malnourishment where each condition weakens the immune system and increases the risk of infection. Over 3 million people have lost their lives during this pandemic, nearly 20% in this country alone. As a physician and public health expert, I am convinced that nutrition and our collective health status have played keys roles in who lives or dies.

Coming out of this pandemic, we have to make choices for this generation. As one of the largest food and beverage corporations in the world, PepsiCo, needs to make different choices. That begins with choosing to level with shareholders–as both proxy #5 and #6 demand — about the inordinate cost to public health, and, frankly, the health of global democracy, of your products and practices.

  • The choice not to mislead shareholders that the requested report is duplicative of some old report, and even that is so clearly not. The choice not to underwrite the American Beverage Association and its crass tactics to undermine local taxes–as in my hometown of Washington DC — that would help communities of color recoup at least some of the overwhelming health costs Pepsi and its competitors have saddled us with.
  • The choice not to be a member of the International Life Sciences Institute, a known propagator of junk science, even as Coca-Cola and Nestle have broken ties. The choice not to target-market sugar water to children of color as the corporation claims to “lift up Black communities and representation.”
  • The choice to disavow and forever defund the legislators behind the current push for Jim Crow 2.0 voting laws across a growing number of states. The choice to sever ties with the trade group most actively opposed to expanding voting rights, the U.S. Chamber.

Pepsi has choices. Choices a new generation will judge it by. Vote yes on proxy #5 and 6.

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