Israeli Schools Flout Ministry Ban With Trips to Coca-Cola and Other Corporate Facilities

The beverage giant's visitor center hosted 600 student tours during the 2016-17 school year, 400 of them for elementary school kids

The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Bnei Brak, Israel.
Nir Keidar

Thousands of Israeli schoolchildren visited factories during the 2016-17 school year, despite an Education Ministry prohibition against field trips to commercial enterprises. The ministry said that students from first to 12th grade in public schools across the spectrum participated in thousands of tours of Coca-Cola Israel and facilities of food manufacturers, including Tnuva, Osem and the Strauss Group.

The Education Ministry has issued policy directives explicitly banning field trips to “corporate visitor centers, factories and any corporate site in which activities combining overt or covert commercial advertising ... exposes visitors to products, processes or marketing through any means.”

The ministry figures were obtained through a Freedom of Information request filed by Elad Man, the legal adviser of the Hatzlaha consumer organization. They shows that Coca-Cola Israel’s visitor center hosted some 600 school tours, 400 of them from elementary schools. The tour explains the background of “the world’s most famous drink” while creating a “thrilling sense of belonging” and revealing “how each day over a billion people experience innumerable moments of happiness” while drinking the beverage, according to the company’s advertising on social media forums for teachers.

A teacher from the center of the country told Haaretz that the tours of Coca-Cola were popular with his students, adding that some people point to the educational value of observing the manufacturing process.

School field trips to facilities of Tnuva and the Strauss Group were also popular, with some 900 and 950 tours, respectively, held in 2016-17. Most were from elementary schools. There were around 200 field trips to Osem and some 150 each to Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises and the facilities of Intel Israel. Some 80 field trips were taken to the Dead Sea Works. Students also visited the facilities of SodaStream, Tefen, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Amdocs, Rotem Amfert, Netafim, Stratasys, Sano, IBM Israel, Merkavim, Soltam and others a small number of times.

A Strauss Group employee checks products at the food company's manufacturing plant, 2015.
Omri Shafran

Coca-Cola Israel’s competitor Tempo, the local bottler of Pepsi-Cola, hosted only 10 school tours last year. Nachum Mazeh, who is in charge of the visitor center, says that dozens of tours are conducted every year for students studying biotechnology. He noted that the schools contact the company directly to schedule the trips and that Tempo “has no connection to the Education Ministry over the matter.”

The State Comptroller’s Office criticized field trips to commercial enterprises in a report issued in 2012. Such visits have been taking place for at least eight years. The report noted the Education Ministry’s prohibition and argued that the students on these field trips are a “captive audience” since they are part of mandatory class attendance.

Man called on the Education Ministry to enforce its own regulations in order to end what he called “a disturbing picture” in which children are exposed to corporate advertising and marketing.

In a written response, the Education Ministry said it “does not authorize educational activity that includes commercial advertising, as set out in an official circular. Violations will be examined and action taken.”