Bullfighting opponent critical of Pepsi sponsorship

Tuesday, June 22, 1999


By Brenda Schory

GENEVA- The black car parked on Third Street in Geneva 's shopping district calls attention to itself with all the subtlety of an air-raid siren.

The entire car is entirely covered with bumper stickers-about 300 in all- every square inch from doors to bumpers, roof to trunk and hood. They all proclaim the same message www.PepsiBloodbath.com in white letters on a black background.

The top of the car on this bright sunny spring Saturday carries four full-color photos on the hood: They are different shots of a bullfight, with bloody bulls in horrific close-up.

The sign beneath proclaims "Pepsi sponsors this."

Steve Hindi, 45, of Geneva , parks the car in various places to get people interested in getting Pepsi-Cola to stop advertising in bull rings in Mexico and Spain . He says its advertising is sponsorship of a cruel sport.

Hindi is an animal-rights activist who perhaps is better known for trying to stop rodeos as animal cruelty. He tried to stop the rodeo in Wauconda in years past and last year, claimed the use of a cattle prod at the Kane County Fair rodeo last year was animal cruelty.

His group's acronym is SHARK, which stands for Showing Animals Respect and Kindness. Last year in April and May, Hindi took a film crew on three trips to Spain and Mexico to do close-up video of what actually happened to 28 bulls during bullfights.

Sometimes, his car carries two hours of video of this close-up gore and apparently relentless suffering on a small TV screen.

"It is the worst animal abuse you will find anywhere on the planet," he said. "It is the slow torture of animals on purpose for 20-30 minutes."

And the biggest ads they saw in the bullrings were for Pepsi-Cola.

Fighting Pepsi-Cola

"We decided to go after the corporate sponsors. We informed Pepsi of what we found, and they sent us back a bunch of bull- the bullfights are not their fault" and the other events are held in the stadiums as well as other sponsors.

Though Pepsi-Cola representatives could not be reached for comment, Hindi said the company defends its bullring ads saying it uses signs to reach consumers and that doesn’t represent an endorsement of events in a stadium-including bullfighting.

As far as Hindi is concerned, if Pepsi-Cola pulled ads from bull rings, it would be a big step toward ending bullfighting.

As evidence of that, Hindi said Pepsi-Cola gave in to pressure to stop sponsoring bullfights in Peru . In 1997, Pepsi-Cola reportedly responded to a petition by the Friends of Animals group, giving instructions to representatives there and in other Latin American countries to stop publicity and sponsorship of bullfights and cockfights.

Hindi's latest campaign took an unexpectedly strange turn last month, when he wanted to appeal directly to PepsiCo stockholders at the company's annual meeting May 5 in Purchase.

Terrorism a detour

Hindi bought PepsiCo stock as his ticket into the shareholders meeting. He was told he would have three minutes to speak, and he would have to provide the text of his speech in advance.

Hindi's brief statement urges Pepsi to drop its ad sponsorship of bullfighting in order to protect investments from consumer boycott.

His presentation would have included photos of Pepsi ads in bullrings with bleeding bulls. It would have included results of a poll of 50,000 Mexicans in Mexico of whom 84 percent said they were opposed to bullfighting.

And he would have warned stockholders consumers are beginning to boycott Pepsi products, some schools already are declaring themselves, "Pepsi-free zones" in protest.

All this he would have said, had PepsiCo officials allowed him into the meeting. When he arrived, he was stopped from attending and delivering his speech.

Hindi said Pepsi-Co officials said they received a threatening call from Illinois-possibly from Hindi himself- regarding the bullfighting issue. Acting on police instructions, they would not let him into the meeting.

Checking out Pepsi

When he returned home to Geneva , Hindi called the FBI in New York and the New York State Police as well as several local police jurisdictions in search of proof such a report was made.

"Nobody has a police report on a bomb threat at PepsiCo," Hindi said.

He believes PepsiCo officials conjured up the terrorist threat to stop him from speaking to shareholders.

According to a June 1 letter to Hindi, Rosemary O'Brien, manager of shareholder relations for PepsiCo acknowledges shareholders are "entitled to communicate his or her views to the corporation and its shareholders."

Pepsi officials "had no objection" to the text of Hindi's speech, but they received a terrorist call from Illinois threatening "people were going to get hurt" unless they took action on bullfighting sponsorship.

"PepsiCo contacted both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York anti-terrorist experts," O'Brien wrote. "It was determined that the situation constituted a genuine threat to the safety of the more than 500 attendees at the meeting."

So now Hindi has begun a letter-writing blitz to law-enforcement agencies both in Illinois and New York to track down the alleged PepsiCo bomb threat report. He has written to the FBI, the New York State Police, to police in Westchester county White Plains and Harrison-all in New York- and to Attorney General Jim Ryan and the Kane County State 's Attorney.

"In a face-to-face conversation, I was told by PepsiCo Vice President…Lawrence Dickie that the alleged threatening phone call included a bomb threat," Hindi wrote. "That PepsiCo had an audiotape of the call, and that the authorities had been contacted…that the phone call came from Illinois and that the CEO and Chairman Roger Enrico was aware of the incident.

So far, only Kane County responded. In a June 15 letter, First Assistant State 's Attorney John Barsanti wrote PepsiCo's actions "do not rise to the level of any Illinois criminal law violations."

But Hindi still is waiting for other responses and might pursue other corporate remedies-including seeking reimbursement from PepsiCo for his trip and the company's promise from to send a copy of his statement to all the shareholders.

"These people are hiding behind phony bomb threats to keep financial analysis from their own stockholders and their own employees of what they're really involved in," Hindi said.

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