An Ethical Analysis of Coca Cola’s Misleading Obesity Research Using Deontology

This article analyses Coca Cola’s misleading obesity research using the deontological ethics also known as Deontology.

What is Deontology?

Business relies on deontological views when it encourages rules or barriers on some activities, even when those rules may hinder maximum profit in individual cases.

For instance, most businesses attach value to a contractual agreement or promise keeping that surpasses and commonly supplant the value of any specific transaction’s outcome.

The deontological approach lends itself to the establishment and implementation of standards or rules to cover different situations, based on the circumstances and motivations of the person that is part of it.

While utilitarianism focuses on the outcomes of specific actions or rules, the deontological ethics frameworks focuses on the intrinsic characteristics of behaviours to determine whether they are innately right or wrong.

The greatest deontologist in history is Immanuel Kant. He believes that an action is good only if it is in line with a maxim that should be unquestionably universalized.

According to the deontological ethics or deontology, actions are judged by whether they conform to rules or principles.

Ethical analysis using Deontology

The perceived rightness and wrongness of the misleading obesity research of Coca-Cola must be entirely analysed based on the intention of the actions rather than the consequences of causing obesity to consumers.

This is one of the deontological rights that the beverage retailer may have under deontological ethics. It must not be castigated for the reason that its products cause obesity to consumers.

Although the action of misleading consumers through their obesity research and causing them to be obese is morally wrong, it does not lay the foundation for decision making under the deontological ethics.

Such an ethical orientation provides the beverage retailer with a chance or an opportunity to explain its intentions and the consequences that such intentions may have.

In this perspective, Coca-Cola has a right to be rewarded or disparaged by communities and rights groups on the basis of their intentions rather than the consequences their soft drinks may have on their consumers.

On the basis of this form of ethics, the beverage retailer may have the right to be bound by duty rather than some negative consequences induced by its products.

Therefore, Coca-Cola may have a binding case to prove the deontological ethics. Coca-Cola’s misleading obesity research does not conform to the rules. As stated earlier on, this action is morally wrong and unethical under the deontological ethics.

A non-profit organisation called Praxis Project accused Coca-Cola of minimising the risks as a way to increase sales and profits despite robust scientific evidence linking soft drinks to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Praxis Project accused the beverage retailer of trying to mislead the general public and its consumers into thinking that soft drinks do not cause obesity but a lack of exercise was the main cause of obesity.

According to Maia Kats, litigation director of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, which helped file the lawsuit, the belief that Coke’s products can be included in a healthy diet is stamped on the minds of a large number of consumers, and entails corrective action.

Kats compared Coca-Cola’s marketing tactics of its soft drinks to those of the tobacco industry and concluded that from the 1950s until the late 1990s, the tobacco industry got involved in an elaborate campaign of disinformation to make people disbelieve that cigarettes can cause lung cancer and other diseases.

Praxis said in its complaint: “Like the tobacco industry, Coca-Cola needs to replenish the ranks of its customers, and it tries to recruit them young.”

As I said earlier on, the deontological ethics provides the beverage retailer with a chance or an opportunity to explain its intentions. According to Coca-Cola’s spokesperson, the lawsuit was “legally and factually meritless.”

He said that the beverage retailer take its consumers and their health very seriously and has been on a journey to become a more reliable and helpful partner in helping consumers handle their sugar consumption.

In other words, Coca-Cola’s spokesperson said that the beverage retailer did not act with a wrong intention. So the company should not be condemned under the deontological ethics.

However, Parix had the right to sue Coca-Cola due to the company’s action of making people think that soft drinks do not cause obesity that people should just exercise to prevent obesity.

According to the lawsuit filed by Parix and another non-profit organisation, Coca-Cola secretly funds and publically promotes biased research, collaborating to promote exercise over the reduction of sugary drink consumption, and publishing false and misleading advertising campaigns while growing scientific evidence connected its soft drinks to preventable diseases.

The lawsuit stated that Coca-Cola intended to increase sales of its soft drinks by misleading consumers through obesity. If that were the case, then the company’s intention was wrong but it cannot be confirmed as its spokesperson denied it.

Coca-Cola’s misleading obesity research remains wrong and unethical under the deontological ethics because it does not conform to rules and principles. According to the Federal Trade Commission, deceptive advertising is illegal, and it is false advertising. It is unethical.

Deceptive or false advertising is forbidden under Section 23(a) of the Lanham Act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

The Lanham Act sets explicit rules for false or deceptive advertising. It states that customers have a legal right to know accurately what they are buying.

Therefore, Coca-Cola broke this principle by misleading consumers through obesity research as consumers might think that soft drinks are healthy.

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