ATLANTA (AP) â€” Coca-Cola Co., faced with a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by black employees, plans to spend $1 billion over the next five years to boost opportunities for minorities and women.
Coke said Tuesday that it will accomplish that in part by doing more business with minority and women-owned financial institutions, suppliers and other companies.
The move will almost double the company's spending on diversity programs.
The initiative has nothing to do with the lawsuit filed by eight current and former employees, said Carl Ware, executive vice president of global public affairs and the highest-ranking black executive at Coke.
Instead, it is an extension of Coke's mission to be a good corporate citizen in the communities where Coca-Cola is sold, he said.
``This is a correct and proper business decision, a part of the company's overall business strategy,'' Ware said. ``This is the new Coca-Cola.''
The plan includes:
â€” Increasing spending with minority- and female-owned businesses by more than 50 percent over the next five years, to an average of $160 million a year.
â€” Establishing a new supplier mentoring program among minorities and women.
â€” Expanding a program Coke began in New York's Harlem in 1998 to increase economic partnerships. Thirteen communities are already involved; Coke plans to add 50 new cities.
â€” Strengthening ties to financial firms owned by minorities or women. For example, Coke trustees recently doubled the portion of its employee pension fund managed by such firms to $115 million. It also plans to double the value of its insurance coverage through minority- and women-owned firms.
â€” Spending $50 million over five years to support nonprofit projects such as scholarships for minority youths.
``Certainly it's an attempt to address the lawsuit,'' said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, president of Concerned Black Clergy. ``But I'm absolutely thrilled. What Coke is doing, I hope other corporations will heed and follow.''
He added: ``You would be hard-pressed to find any corporation that has done more for the black community.''
Cyrus Mehri, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the discrimination suit, said the plans deals only with the treatment of minorities outside the company.
``It will largely be for naught unless the internal issues of discriminatory treatment of African-Americans is addressed,'' Mehri said.
Separately Tuesday, Coca-Cola said it will invest $200 million to expand its business in South Africa. The investment will be used to build bottling and canning plants and production lines and to launch new soft-drink brands.