Policy Needs to Focus on Politics: Coca-Cola’s Political and Policy Influence in Mexico

By Eduardo J Gómez (King’s College London)

True to the nature of being a political scientist, I’ve always been interested in exploring the sources of political power and its consequences for policy. In my new article titled “Coca-Cola’s Political and Policy Influence in Mexico: Understanding the Role of Institutions, Interests, and Divided Society,” I seek to address this issue by applying theories and concepts in political science to better understand and explain how and why Coca-Cola has been an ongoing source of power and influence in Mexico, repeatedly hampering the government’s ability to introduce effective prevention and regulatory policies limiting the marketing and sale of its products—especially towards children and the poor. This tampering of the policy process is important because of the high rates of NCD deaths in Mexico (and worldwide), particularly those ailments associated with obesity and type-2 diabetes. To my knowledge, this is the first article of its kind to integrate several strands of political science theory to develop a new analytical framework, “Institutions, Interests, and Industry Civic Influence (IPIC),” in order to better explain this ongoing policy challenge in Mexico.

Through the application of my IPIC framework, I found that several political institutions, electoral, and civil societal conditions account for Coca-Cola’s ongoing policy influence in Mexico. With respect to institutions, lobbyists’ historic access to congressional and Secretary of Health committees have consistently led to policy decisions that align with Coca-Cola’s interests; when combined with periodic largesse and pressures on the congress, regulatory policies have either been delayed, ignored, or inadequately enforced. At the same time, presidents have mattered: that is, President Vincente Fox’s (2000-2006) previous experience as a Coca-Cola executive facilitated the industry’s ongoing policy influence, while subsequent Presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) viewed this company as a key partner in economic development.

At the same time, this article revealed that Coca-Cola’s strategic partnership with academic researchers within prestigious Mexican universities and think-tanks, as well as sympathetic NGOs harbouring the importance individual of liberties, led to what I call a ‘conflictual civil society.’ That is, by Coca-Cola making allies with these civic actors, other NGOs advocating for the general public’s heath and well-being, such as El Poder del Consumidor and ContraPESO, had fewer civic partners and resources to work with, in the process constraining their mobilisation strategies and ability to limit Coca-Cola’s policy intrusion.

What this article has also revealed is that more than ever, we need to take political science research more seriously. As my IPIC framework shows, applying theories and concepts from the rich political science literature on historical institutionalism, rational choice, and civil mobilisation, integrating these theories with existing public health and public policy frameworks, e.g., from agenda-setting to the recent literature on ‘Corporate Political Activity,’ can evince an argument that more thoroughly captures the intricacies and logic behind why and how major industries continue to negatively influence regulatory policy. More research on this kind of analytical approach is greatly needed, especially with respect to developing nations, where Coca-Cola and other junk food industries are thriving.

While the Mexican government has done a commendable job of introducing a soda tax and implementing a myriad of obesity and type-2 diabetes prevention programs, in the end, this article suggests that these policies are wholly insufficient. That is, perhaps above all else, policy needs to focus on politics: by eliminating Coca-Cola’s partnership with the government and academic researchers, Mexico can ensure that NCD policies are not consistently influenced by provincial corporate interests, in turn making effective progress on preventing NCDs and improving the health of its citizens.

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