Thursday, December 30, 1999
The Beacon News (Aurora, IL)
By Joel Patenaude
The cola giant Pepsico is removing its billboards from bullfighting rings throughout Mexico, and no one is happier about it than Geneva-based animal rights activist Steve Hindi.
Having launched his campaign to end Pepsi sponsorship of bullfighting 18 months ago, Hindi said his victory this week came primarily from the involvement in his cause of a popular government minister in India, where cows are considered sacred.
The minister, also an animal rights advocate, threatened to broadcast on national television bullfighting footage shot in Mexico by Hindi – video which featured the Pepsi logo hanging prominently ringside in plazas de toros.
Hindi said company officials decided to remove their advertising from bull rings rather that wait for the broadcast to offend Indian viewers, millions of whom could boycott drinking Pepsi.
“They faced writing off nearly a billion potential customers,” Hindi said.
Of Pepsi officials, Hindi said, “They are never ever going to admit activism had anything to do with this. That’s fine. We’re not looking for credit, at least not from them. I don’t care why or how they leave (bull rings), just so long as they leave.”
But a Pepsi spokesman – who has in the past denied that pressure from activists prompted the advertising withdrawal – admitted Wednesday that Hindi’s effort was a significant contributing factor.
“Yes, along with all the consumer calls we were getting and other activist groups getting involved,” said Dave DeCecco at Pepsi headquarters in Purchase, NY.
DeCecco said the company shared the negative responses they received with Pepsi franchise managers in Mexico, who then agreed to remove signs bearing the company logo from all bull rings, of where there are hundreds.
The serving of Pepsi products will likely continue at bull rings, as will the pouring of beverages offered by competitors, he said.
DeCecco did not give as much credit for the company’s decision to Maneka Gandhi, who demanded Pepsi end “all patronage” of bullfighting in Mexico.
Gandhi – the Indian minister of state for social justice and empowerment and a founder of People for Animals – proposed to show Hindi’s video on her two television shows dedicated to animal welfare issues.
“It is then for Indian consumers to decide whether they wish to continue to patronize products from a company associated with this level of animal abuse,” Gandhi wrote in an Oct. 31 letter to Pepsi. “In India, non-violence and compassion for animals, particularly cattle which are revered, is part of our folklore, tradition and religious beliefs. We do not take kindly to people or companies that violate this ethic.”
DeCecco said Gandhi’s letter was among many received that asked Pepsi to cease advertising at bull rings. He said it would have been unfortunate for Gandhi to have broadcast Hindi’s videotape, which includes images also available on Hindi’s web site www.pepsibloodbath.com.
The Web site, dominated by a Pepsi logo altered to appear to be dripping blood, includes a statement saying the site “will be removed when Pepsi halts its support of cruel bullfights around the world.”
With the expected removal of all Pepsi signs from bull rings within the next few weeks, DeCecco said he hopes Hindi will fulfill his promise and take down the Web site.
The Web site, which contained a long list of organizations supporting the anti-Pepsi campaign, was changed Wednesday to read, “We’re giving (Pepsi) until Feb. 28 (before) we check on their progress in Mexico.
Hindi said his meeting with a couple Texas-transplanted Indian activists at an animal rights conference in California this year “was a stroke of luck.” The Indians got this videotape into the minister’s hands.
“Given our lack of resources, a lot of people thought (beating Pepsi) couldn’t be done,” he said. “I was fairly amazed Pepsi hung in as long as they did. There was no point to it. What the company was doing was offensive to anyone with a heart and a brain.”
Hindi said he will now target other advertisers – chief among them, the Mexican beer company Corona, whose ads, he said, have replaced Pepsi’s at some bull rings.
And he wants to enlist his new-found allies in India in his on-going campaign against rodeos. Bucking bulls are often Brahma mixes, the same animals allowed to roam the streets unmolested in India.
“Wait until they see how these same animals are spurred, shocked, their tails twisted, and eyes gouged,” Hindi said.
Multi-national companies that sponsor rodeo circuits, Hindi said, could also be vulnerable to pressure from Indian activists.
“I believe this is just the beginning of a long and enduring relationship,” he said.