By Chuck Zlatkin
Issue: January 2005
Check out KillerCoke.Org. You'll find a raft of information on Coke and its bottlers' operations in Colombia. There is extensive documentation of rampant violence committed against Coke's unionized workforce by paramilitary forces, and powerful claims of the company's complicity in the violence.
An April 2004 report from a fact-finding delegation headed by New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate contends:
"To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so."
"Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval. Shockingly, company officials admitted to the delegation that they had never investigated the ties between plant managers and paramilitaries. The company's inaction and its ongoing refusal to take any responsibility for the human rights crisis faced by its workforce in Colombia demonstrates — at best — disregard for the lives of its workers."
"Coca-Cola's complicity in the situation is deepened by its repeated pattern of bringing criminal charges against union activists who have spoken out about the company's collusion with paramilitaries. These charges have been dismissed without merit on several occasions."
Allegations such as these formed the basis of a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers of America in U.S. courts against Coke on behalf of a Colombian trade union and union leader victims of violence at Coke bottling facilities in Colombia.
In 2003, a federal court dismissed the claims against Coke, arguing that its relationship with the owners of the Coke bottling plant in Colombia was too attenuated to hold the soft drink multinational responsible for human rights abuses at the plant. The plaintiffs have since refiled their complaint 3 they argue the original decision was mistaken, but that Coke's subsequent purchase of the Colombia bottlers means the company is now clearly responsible for the bottlers' actions.
Here's what Coke has to say:
"Colombia is a dangerous place, but The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling partners will continue to do everything they can to keep employees safe."
"The pervasive violence in Colombia, and the targeting of union members by its perpetrators, has, unfortunately, touched The Coca-Cola Company in a very personal way. Employees of our Company and bottling partners in Colombia have been threatened, kidnapped, and some have even been murdered. Among them was Isidro Gil, who was on security duty at a bottling facility in Carepa in December 1996 when he was shot at the plant gate. In a lawsuit in Colombia, the court concluded that the bottler not only took proper steps to initiate investigation by the authorities, but went further to enhance its workers' safety by heightening security at the plant. In the United States, The Coca-Cola Company was dismissed from a lawsuit concerning, among other things, Mr. Gil's murder."
"In the midst of the violence plaguing Colombia, The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling partners have instituted special safeguards to protect employees — not just while they're on the job. For those at greatest risk, the security measures extend beyond the workplace."
"The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola FEMSA [the Colombia subsidiary] believe that respect for human rights and labor rights are non-negotiable, fundamental values. We operate our businesses in Colombia and throughout the world according to these values."
The back-and-forth is rather detailed. We find the claims of the advocates for Coke's Colombian workers most persuasive.
Leave aside for the moment the issue of Coke's legal liability. The idea that Coke can't control the behavior of its bottlers is simply implausible. It can control them if it so chooses — just the way that clothing retailers can control the actions of their manufacturers, but even more so.
Instructive in raising questions about Coke's good-faith concern for its workers is its unwillingness to support an independent investigation into the Colombia allegations — even after the company's former General Counsel, and the former assistant U.S. attorney general, Deval Patrick, had committed to one. Coke's refusal to authorize an investigation reportedly contributed to Patrick's decision to resign from the corporation.
Even more instructive is Coke's refusal to agree to "Seven Points for Settlement" put forward by the Colombian union and its advocates. These are reasonable points to which the company could agree without accepting blame for the abuses committed at the bottling plants. Completely apart from the litigation and the campaign against Coke, these are points to which the company should agree if it wants to clamp down on violence in the bottling plants. They include:
• In Colombia, denounce anti-union violence, assert that anti-union violence is bad for business, and indicate the company's belief that the union is not connected to armed groups in Colombia.
• Agree to support the creation of an independent committee to which workers can submit complaints about anti-union violence and intimidation at or around any Coca-Cola bottling plant.
• Investigate connections between local Coke management in Colombia and paramilitaries, and remove any managers with such ties.
• End criminal harassment charges in Colombia against plaintiffs in the lawsuit and other union leaders.
• Compensate victims of anti-union violence.
* * * * *
The following article describing Dow Chemical's human rights and environmental abuses is included here since Coke Director J. Pedro Reinhard is Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the Dow Chemical Co.
DOW CHEMICAL: FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES
Let's assume for a second, as the law does, that a corporation is a person.
If a corporation is a person, then how come we don't see biographies of corporations?
We're not talking about "official" biographies — those written by people in the pocket of the corporation.
Of course they exist.
By why not warts-and-all biographies of major corporations?
Like "The Life and Times of General Motors?"
Actually, a historian by the name of Brad Snell has been working for years on such a biography about General Motors — warts and all. He says he's almost finished.
In 1974, Gerard Colby Zilg wrote a book titled DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain, which was a biography of DuPont Corporation — warts and all.
Zilg claimed that his publisher, under pressure from DuPont, buried the book — and it went nowhere.
Now comes Jack Doyle.
Doyle is trying to make a career out of writing critical corporate biographies.
In 2002, under contract with the Environmental Health Fund, Doyle wrote his first corporate biography, titled Riding the Dragon: Royal Dutch Shell & The Fossil Fire.
To coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Doyle came out with Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century.
At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.
Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness.
Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.
Activists from around the world — including human rights, legal, environmental health and other experts — mobilized this year to demand that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, be held accountable.
Twenty years after this disaster, the company responsible for this catastrophe and its former executives are still fugitives from justice. Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, were charged with manslaughter for the deaths at Bhopal, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.
Here is Dow's "complete statement" on Bhopal:
Twenty years ago on December 3, 1984, one of the most tragic incidents in the history of industry occurred in Bhopal, India. Those of us in industry remember that day well, and the following days, when several thousand people died.
Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant, we — along with the rest of industry — have learned from this tragic event, and we have tried to do all we can to assure that similar incidents never happen again.
To that end, the chemical industry learned and grew as a result of Bhopal — creating Responsible Care with its strengthened focus on process safety standards, emergency preparedness, and community awareness. The industry also has worked with governmental regulators to assure that industry best practices are implemented through regulations for the protection of workers and communities.
While Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal, we have never forgotten the tragic event and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements. This is why Responsible Care was created and why these standards are essential for the protection of our employees and the communities where we live and work. Our pledge and our commitment is the full implementation of Responsible Care everywhere we do business around the world.
The former Bhopal plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India, Ltd. (UCIL), an Indian company, with shared ownership by Union Carbide Corporation, the Indian government, and private investors. Union Carbide sold its shares in UCIL in 1994, and UCIL was renamed Eveready Industries India, Ltd., which remains a significant Indian company today.
Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal? The people of Bhopal don't agree. They say Union Carbide was responsible, and if Union Carbide is now owned by Dow, then Dow's responsible. They refuse to accept Dow's corporate shell game.
Doyle took the title of his book, "Trespass Against Us," from the Lord's prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
We asked Doyle if he was urging humanity — those who have been polluted by Dow chemicals — to forgive Dow for its trespass against us.
"Not at all," Doyle said. "By using the 'trespass against us' phrase, I am trying to make visible the invisible — trying to show that there are boundary lines being violated daily by toxic substances. Corporations are making a profit on the invasion of my personal space, my biology. They are not controlling the full costs of their operation, and we are picking up the tab for their externalities in form of disease, illness, lower immunity, altered reproduction, birth defects, cancer. That's not right. That's a mortal trespass, an unforgivable transgression that must be stopped. We are certainly not calling on consumers to ask that companies be forgiven — quite the opposite. They need to be prosecuted. Companies like Dow are getting away with biological trespass daily."
And his book documents this.
Dow says that for most of the past decade it has pursued a "series of ambitious goals to improve Environment, Health, and Safety performance. We did this because we value the safety of our people and neighbors." The result, according to the company, has been 10,000 injuries averted since 1996.
"Our 'Vision of Zero' means we want no injuries, illnesses, accidents, or environmental harm to result from our enterprise," asserts the company. "It is a lofty goal, but it is also the only acceptable Vision for us to work toward."
But these words gloss over an odious history.
In honor of the dead and dying in Bhopal, we urge you to buy Doyle's book. Every time you use common plastic items, think of the destruction. Every time you use Saran Wrap (originally a Dow product), question the consequences.
And in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the crime of Bhopal, we present here 20 things to remember about Dow Chemical — the company now responsible for Bhopal and a fugitive from justice.
20. Agent Orange/Napalm — The toxic herbicide and jellied gasoline used in Vietnam created horrors for young and old alike - and an uproar back home that forced Dow to rethink its public relations strategy.
19. Rocky Flats — The top secret Colorado site managed by Dow Chemical from 1952 to 1975 remains an environmental nightmare for the Denver area.
18. Body burden — In March 2001, the Centers for Disease Control reported that most people in the United States carry detectable levels of plastics, pesticides and heavy metals in their blood and urine.
17. 2,4-D — An herbicide produced by Dow Chemical, 2,4-D is still in used for killing lawn weeds, crop weeds and range weeds, and along utility company rights-of way and railroad tracks. One of the key ingredients in Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam, 2,4-D is the most widely used herbicide in the world.
16. Mercury — In Canada, Dow had been producing chlorine using the mercury cell method since 1947. Much of the mercury was recycled, but significant quantities were discharged into the environment through air emissions, water discharges, waste sludge and in end products. In March 1970, the governments of Ontario and Michigan detected high levels of mercury in the fish in the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and Lake Erie. Dow was sued by state and local officials for mercury pollution.
15. PERC — Perchloroethylene is the hazardous substance used by dry cleaners everywhere. Dow tried to undermine safer alternatives.
14. 2,4,5 T — This is one of the toxic ingredients in Agent Orange. Doyle says that "Dow just fought tooth and nail over this chemical — persisted every way it could in court and with the agencies, at the state and federal levels, to buy more time for this product. They went into a court in Arkansas in the early 1970s to challenge the EPA administrator. They did that to buy some extra marketing time, and they got two years, even though it appears that Dow knew this chemical was a bad actor by then, caused birth defects in lab animals, and was also being found in human body fat by then. But it wasn't until 1983 that Dow quit making 2,4,5-T in the United States, and 1987 before they quit production in New Zealand. And 2,4,5-T health effects litigation continues to this day."
13. Busting unions — In 1967, unions represented almost all of Dow's production workers. But since then, according to the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, Dow undertook an "unapologetic campaign to rid itself of unions."
12. Silicone — The key ingredient for silicone breast implants, made by a joint venture between Dow and Corning (Dow Corning), made women sick. Litigation over silicone breast implants — removed from the market more than a decade ago — continues.
11. DBCP — Fumazone. Doctors who tested men who worked with DBCP thought they had vasectomies — they had no sperm present.
10. Dursban — Dursban is the trade name for chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide, a product that proved to have the nerve agent effects that Rachel Carson warned about. It was tested on prisoners in New York in 1971 and in 1998 at a lab in Lincoln, Nebraska. It replaced DDT when DDT was banned in 1972. A huge seller, in June 2000, EPA limited its use and forced it off the market at the end of 2004.
9. Dow at Christmas — "Uses of Dow plastics by the toy industry are across the board," boasted Dow Chemical in an internal company memo one Christmas season — "and more and more of our materials are found under the Christmas tree and on the birthday table, make some child, some toy company, and Dow, very happy indeed." Among the chemicals used in these toys — polystyrene, polyethylene, ethylene copolymer resins, saran resins, PVC resins, or vinyls and ethyl cellulose. And a Happy New Year.
8.The Tittabawassee — The Tittabawassee is a river and river basin polluted by Dow in its hometown, Midland, Michigan.
7. Brazos River, Freeport, Texas — A February 1971 headline in the Houston Post read: "Brazos River is Dead." In 1970 and 1971, Dow's operation there was sending more than 4.5 billion gallons of wastewater per day into the Brazos and on into the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Toxic Trespass — Doyle writes: "Dow Chemical has been polluting property and poisoning people for nearly a century, locally and globally — trespassing on workers, consumers, communities, and innocent bystanders — on wildlife and wild places, on the global biota and the global genome...Dow Chemical must end its toxic trespass."
5. Holmesburg Experiments — In January 1981, a Philadelphia Inquirer story revealed that Dow Chemical paid a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to test dioxin on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. Tests were conducted in 1964 on 70 inmates.
4. Worker deaths — Dow has a long history of explosions and fires at its facilities, well documented by Doyle. One example, in May 1979: an explosion ripped through Dow Chemical's Pittsburgh facility, killing two workers and injuring more than 45 others.
3. Brain tumors — In 1980, investigators found 25 workers with brain tumors at the company's Freeport, Texas facility — 24 of which were fatal.
2. Saran Wrap — The thin slice of plastic invaluable to our lives, Saran Wrap was produced by Dow until consumers were looking for Dow products to boycott. Dow decided to get out of consumer products for this reason — it sold off Saran Wrap — and since then the company, now the world's largest plastics maker, just manufactures the chemical feeds that manufacturers use to make our consumer products.
1. Bhopal — Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we seek to bring to justice those who trespass against us.
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