Unless you follow the news media with unusual diligence, you may have missed the landmark agreement recently worked out between Jesse Jackson's PUSH and the Coca-Cola Co. And yet, that agreement could, with proper follow-up, be as important to black America as the boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., bus company a quarter of a century ago.
Under terms of the "moral covenant" announced on Aug. 10, following a little-publicized boycott of Coca-Cola, the soft-drink giant will:
Increase the number of black-owned distributors from the present two to 32 within the next 12 months, while providing special training and other assistance, at a company-estimated cost of $1.3 million.
Identify "bottling franchises that may become available and attractive to financially capable black investors" and, in addition, develop a pool of prospective black investors to whom the franchise opportunities will be referred.
Seek a black person for membership on the corporate board.
Establish a venture capital fund of $1.8 million for blacks.
Double the amount of advertising money spent with black-owned media, as sign one of its product lines to a black advertising agency, quadruple the level of deposit and loan activity with black banks, and expand the amount of business done with black suppliers.
The total value of the package is estimated by the company at over $30 million.
Coca-Cola president Donald R. Keough described his company's response as "accelerating and enlarging our programs already in place" to give black America "a well-deserved piece of the action."
Jackson won't quibble with that description, but he goes further. "President Reagan cut the public economy, which affected blacks disproportionately. Then, with his emphasis on deregulation, he told the Congress and the private sector that they didn't have to provide affirmative-action help to take up the slack. In addition, his proposals for guest-worker programs and other devices to increase opportunities for foreigners further undercut opportunities for blacks. We have concluded that we have to become our own Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."
The enforcement lever is the $140 billion blacks spend each year.
Jackson said Coke's first response, following the boycott-inspired resumption of negotiations that had broken down, was to talk primarily about hiring more black workers. That is important, he acknowledged, but not the heart of what he and his Selective Patronage Council (representing the 50 top American markets) had in mind.
"Our concept is a development formula," he said. "When Coca-Cola goes to Nigeria, for instance, it can't just offer jobs. It has to do something on the supply side in terms of business opportunities and financing and ownership. But they come to the black community here offering just jobs--and not very many of those. What we are saying is that they have to do more than that, or else we will withdraw our visa."
In a telephone interview from his Chicago home, he pointed out that not a single one of Coca-Cola's 550 bottlers or its 4,000 fountain wholesalers is black. The company had on deposit just $254,000 in 10 black banks, $100,000 of that total in a single certificate of deposit.
When the initial talks foundered, he said, PUSH called its 50-city network into play, using ministers, politicians and others to implement a "withdrawal of our enthusiasm for Coke products." Shortly there after, he said, Coca-Cola was taken off the shelves in four black-owned 7-11 franchises in Washington alone, followed by similar action in white-owned stores. Gary's mayor, Richard Hatcher, chairman of the black mayors conference, started a drive to remove Coke machines from the 194 city halls under black control. Coke came off the shelves in 100 Chicago stores.
Coke got the message, and Keough himself got involved in the renewed talks.
"What we have worked out," said Jackson, "is a framework of reciprocity rather than generosity." He was especially encouraged, he said, that the campaign was successful in spite of the fact that it was mostly ignored by the white press until it was over.
Clearly the technique is not limited to Coke, which is bigger but no worse than most other companies, he said.
Significantly, however, before he tackles other businesses, Jackson, who has a reputation for not following up on his campaigns, is moving to solidify and expand his victory with Coke. This very week, representatives of the Selective Patronage Council will be meeting in a Chicago suburb to work out local and regional implementation programs, including monitoring techniques, and to "package" the process so that it can be used elsewhere.