By John Meierdiercks | Vermont Cynic (University of Vermont) | January 30, 2007
UVM's Students for Peace and Global Justice, an organization known for its strong stance on the preservation of civil liberties, has been, for the past two weeks, stationed just inside of Cook Commons.
Armed with fliers, pamphlets and a petition, the SFPGJ has raised its fists against the Coca-Cola Corporation's alleged "...abuse of the global public interest." The accusations range from the exploitation and pollution of water sources in India to the support of paramilitary forces responsible for the deaths of union leaders in Colombia.
The petition was created by an organization called Killer Coke, whose goal is, "...to stop a gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of SINALTRAINAL (National Union of Food Industry Workers) union leaders and organizers... in Colombia." The organization also advocates worker and union rights and corporate accountability.
According to Killer Coke, since 1989, death squads in cooperation with Coca-Cola bottling plant managers have been responsible for the murder of eight union leaders in Colombia. The country is a notoriously dangerous place for trade unionists. The government has recorded almost 800 union killings since 2000 with only a small number ever being solved or even investigated.
A lawsuit was filed in 2001 in the U.S. against Coke by the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers union on behalf of the SINALTRAINAL workers. In 2006, the lawsuit was thrown out by Miami U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez on account of lack of jurisdiction (the Coca-Cola Corporation was itself dropped from the lawsuit in 2003, also because of a lack of jurisdiction).
Coca-Cola, according to Killer Coke, has also contributed to the depletion of local water supplies in India. The corporation is accused of "...[squeezing] local wells dry, leaving thousands of families and farmers to face severe water shortages and health problems." The India Resource Center, an organization that works to support groups against globalization in India, has said that the quickly shrinking water table at a Coke plant in Kala Dera has led to an extreme shortage in water that supplies over 50 villages.
Coca-Cola bottling plants have also had a negative effect on the local environment, polluting the ground water surrounding the facilities and essentially poisoning the soil with large deposits of cadmium and lead.
How substantiated are these claims? In the case of corporate accountability only a thorough investigation can initiate the proper protocol that may lead to punitive actions. A lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Corporation has been dropped, amongst reports of murders of union members, thus it is unknown whether Coke was directly involved.
A spokeswomen speaking from Coke's headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. has said that both the corporation and its factories worldwide adhere to the laws and regulations put forth by the countries in which they do business. Edward E. Potter, Coke's global labor relations director has said that perpetuating "...urban myth is more exciting [for activists] than knowing what the facts are." Also, a global coalition of labor unions has decided not to join the anti-Coke battle, citing lack of evidence in support of the accusations.
The Killer Coke petition calls for the boycott of all Coke products, which include Dasani, Evian and Fanta. The movement has spread quite rapidly throughout the country to over 23 universities, all banning Coca-Cola products on their campuses. Although the college boycotts will have little effect on Coke's yearly profit of more than $23 billion, the protests come at a very trying time for the Coca-Cola Corporation as their long-time business rival PepsiCo. has recently surpassed them in market value.
The Killer Coke movement has been gaining momentum since the SINALTRAINAL lawsuit in 2001. The organization says it will continue to work to abolish multinational corporations' use of cheap foreign labor in areas where governments are not taking the appropriate action. Their hope is to create more corporate accountability while simultaneously improving international workers' rights.
(c) Copyright 2007 Vermont Cynic
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