Sunday, May 18, 2014

Coca Cola's "Hello Happiness" Hits A Roadblock in Dubai

"Hello Happiness," is a new video produced for Coca-Cola.  Hello Happiness opens with migrant laborers in Dubai, standing before sunrise waiting for a van to pull arrive to carry them to work. The video proceeds  through shots of solemn faced men in work clothes riding to work under the rising sun, men on institution like bunk beds, a man looking at a photo of two children and street scene of  men in transit. They speak about how they love and miss their families, and that they wish they could hear their children's voices more often.
The screen is covered for a few seconds with white text on a red background. The text informs the viewer that these make about six dollars per day, and that it costs nearly a dollar per minute to call home so phone calls are rare. Then the viewer is posed a question. "So what if every Coke came with a few extra minutes of happiness?"

The video, meant to highlight communication plight of these men inadvertently sidesteps a larger more pressing issue.

The lives of Dubai's migrant laborers are wrought with hardships much worse than lack of communication with the families they have left behind in other countries. Thousands of migrant workers from South Asia account for more than eighty-eight per cent of residents of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is a commercial and cultural center of the UAE.

A 2014 report by Human Watch found that recruiters in countries like India and Pakistan often charge fees of several thousand dollars to migrant laborers to expedite their trips to the U.A.E. and presumably good employment opportunities once they arrive. Once workers reach their destination they find themselves is situation akin to illegal labor camps. It is reported that employers sometimes confiscate their passports, while prohibiting the workers from organizing or bargaining collectively.

The video continues to lead the viewer into the workers going to work on to five unique Coke themed phone booths coming to fruition.

In March 2014, Coke installed these five special phone booths in Dubai labor camps. The booths were special because they accepted Coca-Cola bottle caps instead of coins. In exchange for the cap from a bottle of Coke that costs about fifty-four cents, migrant workers could make a three-minute international call. The video flashes images of laborers in work gear happily using the machines. More than forty thousand people made calls using the machines. Ahh the pleasure of being able to afford to talk to love ones distances away. Then, in April, after the booths had been up for about a month, the company dismantled them.

You see Coke has always been a company that associated it's product with pleasure.

Maybe Coke realized that the simple pleasure of hearing a loved one's voice was overshadowed by exploitative working agreements and conditions that the laborers endured to enjoy the simple pleasures of that Coke that provided the bottle caps for the pleasurable phone calls from the workers to their families.

Coke has not intentionally done anything wrong in this particular campaign. They missed a grand opportunity to be an exposure catalyst for a bigger story that desperately needs to be told. The real pleasure for the laborers would be an improvement in their working conditions and compensation. A more rewarding pleasure for the families would be an influx of job opportunities into their destitute towns and villages so that instead of a phone call at the end of a workday they can have a Coke and a hug together.

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