To be clear, PepsiCo is not beyond reproach. It has run into some problems with human rights in the past. From 1991 to 1997, Pepsi invested in Burma and incidentally supported the junta regime. Facing massive opposition, PepsiCo officially divested from Burma on May 31, 1997. The message here, however, is that PepsiCo’s recognition of the human right to water, and its commitment to ensuring that it sources water in ways that do not have a negative effect on local communities and ecosystems, is where the attention and media hype should be focused.
Earlier this year, the Pepsi Refresh Project was launched. The Refresh Project harnesses social media tools to empower communities to support projects that benefit social and environmental causes. By supporting organizations with cash donations, PepsiCo can be said to be exhibiting corporate social responsibility, but all with an aim outside its own operations. The value to communities and projects that benefited from the Refresh Project is undisputed. Further, the recognition of PepsiCo as a corporate leader in this space is not questioned. However, the Pepsi Refresh Project is not “true” CSR. For all the media attention gained by its efforts, the Refresh Challenge in no way affects the human rights issues at the core of PepsiCo’s actual line of business.