Coca-Cola Accounts For Up To 40 Percent Of Swaziland's GDP: Activists

In one African nation, a giant American brand may be bringing corporate influence to a whole new level.

Coca-Cola accounts for as much as 40 percent of Swaziland's gross domestic product, according to activists cited by the Guardian. Coke owns a plant in Swaziland, a nation ruled by Mswati III -- Africa's last absolute monarch who many blame for human rights violations as well as stealing the country's wealth.

Swaziland is the lead exporter of Coke in Eastern and Southern Africa and close to half of the country's exports are based on sugar and drink concentrates, Foreign Policy reports. While it may be hard to verify the activists' numbers, statistics from other organizations still indicate that Coke controls a staggering amount of Swaziland's economy. Coke accounts for a minimum of 22 percent of Swaziland's GDP, according to a Foreign Policy analysis of World Bank data.

Activists as part of the Swaziland Solidarity Network have urged Coke to stop supporting Mswati III, but not to pull out of the country all together, according to the BBC. They've accused the company of supporting the monarch by taking out full-page ads in state-owned newspapers wishing him a happy birthday. Still, the company says it doesn't get involved in the politics of any country where it does business.

"Either you join the people or you remain on the side of the king [in which case] your future will be in the dustbin of history," Lucky Lukehele, one of the activists, told the BBC.

Though propping up a dictatorship is a harsh accusation, this isn't the first controversy the beverage giant has faced. In the mid-2000s, students at multiple universities aimed to get Coke banned from their campuses. The campaign, called "Killer Coke," came after the company allegedly turned a blind eye when some employees at its bottling companies in Colombia were killed and jailed over over-hyped terrorism charges, according to a 2006 article in Businessweek.

Activists also accused the company of exacerbating water scarcity issues, according to a 2005 article in the Economist. Coke allegedly used too much water at its bottling plants in areas in India that were prone to drought, leaving the regions' poor residents to fend for themselves, according to activists.

But the company's multinational presence likely boosts some regions. In Africa, the availability of the beverage in a given country can illustrate the nation's relative stability, according to NPR. In some regions, Coke is so ubiquitous that one man started an organization, which puts "pods" of medicine into the crates carrying Coke in some areas of Zambia where drugs are hard to come by, the BBC reports.