Guest Opinion: LA Galaxy sponsor Herbalife can’t hide behind marketing

Controversy over LA Galaxy sponsor Herbalife has become a recurring theme, but has reached new heights in recent weeks with government agencies seemingly stumbling over each other to investigate the company’s questionable business practices.

The below op-ed piece on the issue was written by retired local public school teacher John Fernandez, a member of the Full Rights for Immigration Coalition and a member of a group that runs a Tumblr blog called StopHerbalLIES:

fernandezmugNo slick marketing can change the score on the board.

 That’s a lesson that Herbalife is going to learn as it tries to hide its predatory business practices behind its sponsorship of the LA Galaxy. It’s not uncommon in marketing for a corporation to try and attach itself to a cause that is more popular than itself.  But the consumer should still be careful when the corporation buying the marketing follows a set of values very different from the product they are endorsing.
No amount of cosmetic marketing can cover the fact that Herbalife is a $4.8 billion company, in large part due to the Latino community, which accounts for more than 60 percent of distributors. Yet more than 80 percent of those distributors make nothing and less than 4 percent make more than a thousand a year.
This is a rip-off for Latinos. Slick marketing can always be exposed as a fraud if the company doing the sponsorship doesn’t follow the values of the product it’s endorsing. 
Remember the outcry during the Oscar Awards?  Ellen DeGeneres used a Samsung phone during the show.  After all, Samsung was sponsoring the awards.  But backstage, she was seen using her own personal iPhone. People felt they had been fooled by a marketing gimmick.
Unfortunately for Herbalife, no one is going to be fooled by its gimmicks.  Latinos know the score and they know that Herbalife isn’t playing by the rules.
This company essentially offers a predatory sales program that targets disadvantaged groups, including Latinos.  Yet when the new movie on the life of Cesar Chavez was released recently, guess who sponsored some of the early screenings?  Herbalife.  No one was fooled then and no one will be fooled by the sponsorship of the Galaxy. This isn’t about Herbalife embracing the Latino community; this is about Herbalife taking advantage of the Latino community.  Even the Federal Trade Commission has its doubts, recently launching an investigation into Herbalife’s operations, a move followed by an FBI probe, as well. 
The company aggressively targets lower-income Latinos with little to no business experience, including undocumented workers, who are in desperate need of a paycheck to support their families. With false get-rich-claims, they are luring these trusting, unsuspecting individuals into what we believe is an illegal pyramid scheme. Herbalife’s business model incentivizes recruitment rather than selling products, leaving those at the bottom with no recruits – and no income.
As we kick off the 2014 MLS soccer season, I take joy in the fact that the sport uniquely unites us. Soccer itself teaches teamwork, discipline and accountability.  Ironically, these values could not be more different from the values of Herbalife.  So while Herbalife helps bring soccer to our communities, it is simultaneously bringing us a predatory business model that is economically weighing us down.
It’s time for companies like Herbalife to quit saying they support Latinos with their words while they work to undermine Latinos with their actions.  If Herbalife really wants to endorse the Latino community, it should stop its predatory business practices immediately.  Now that would be a winning score for everyone. 
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Guest Blogger Lisa Hirschmann: Economics Professor Sunil Gulati

Daily Breeze intern Lisa Hirschmann graduated from Columbia University in December with a bachelor’s degree in Hispanic Studies. The Pasadena resident has studied in Madrid and Argentina (and came away from the experience a fan of Real Madrid and that South American country’s national team) and played soccer for 10 years. She offers a different perspective of U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying.

Most United States soccer fans know Sunil Gulati as the president of the United States Soccer Federation. But before I was aware of his alternate life as the USSF president, I knew Gulati as the teacher of the only college economics class I remotely enjoyed.

Gulati is a very popular professor who teaches two introductory level economics courses for undergraduates at Columbia University: “Principles of Economics” and “World Economy”. I took the latter in spring of 2006. It’s a large lecture that covers the basics of international trade.

He hardly mentions soccer in the classroom and appears to fit in well with his colleagues, which is why I say he leads an alternate life. Most of his students don’t, and probably won’t, ever find out how important he is to U.S. Soccer.

In general, Gulati is a great professor who cares a lot about challenging his students. With so many them, he treats each class a bit like a performance. He has a high energy level, and he tries to engage his students. Sometimes he gives fun trivia questions and asks students to e-mail him the answer (i.e. What is a technological device that creates jobs? Answer: a shovel, a pick, a wheelbarrow, etc.) He tries to get to know his students by taking them to lunch in the faculty dining room in small groups. He invites his international trade expert friends like Jagdish Bhagwati and Joseph Stiglitz to give guest lectures.

One of the biggest complaints about his class, which I share, is that it is too math-heavy (his dad was a math professor – maybe he’s math-oriented?). As an introductory level course, “World Economy” emphasizes calculations more than concepts, which leads non-economics and non-math majors to retain less information than they otherwise might. It is also the reason that Gulati’s classes are considered tough.

The other complaint you hear from some students about Gulati is that he is slightly arrogant. I can see how he might come across to some students in this way, but they probably have not bothered to Google his name, and still haven’t discovered his claim to fame.

(And as a final anecdote, I’ll add that in December, as I was studying for my last round of finals, I saw Professor Gulati on campus walking with Claudio Reyna. I looked around to see if anyone else was starstruck, but I was the only one.)

Here is a USA Today article about Prof. Gulati.

Read reviews from Gulati’s students here.

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