We Read It: Mark Thomas's 'Belching Out the Devil'

British satirist and TV host Mark Thomas's new book takes aim at Coca-Cola, alleging that the company's worldwide thirst-quenching isn't bringing smiles to everyone. Instead, he writes, the iconic white-and-red ribbon is a slick PR blindfold for child labor, union crackdowns and even violence, all to protect cash flow and the supply chain. The four best bits:

The company, Thomas contends, looked the other way as some bottlers in Colombia and elsewhere intimidated and attacked union organizers, who "walk with a gravestone" on their backs. Pressured to audit Colombian plants in 2005, Coke helpfully noted a substandard number of fire extinguishers at one, but didn't address the charges.

Coke often doesn't make its own Coke. It relies on a vast web of subcontractors, bottlers and distributors. Most have loose or no ties to the company, and are in countries where workplace laws are underdeveloped at best.

In India, Coke drained water from local villages but gave them fertilizer in return—which contained lead and toxins, according to a BBC investigation. A leading British poisons expert warned of "devastating consequences" for the local population, but Coke called the fertilizer "absolutely safe."

The concentrate for 70 percent of Coca-Cola's 1.5 billion drinks served each day originates in the tax haven of Ireland, where enough concentrate for 50,000 Cokes costs $2.60—including labor. The concentrate's main ingredient? Caramel.

Join the Discussion