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Letter from the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke to University of Massachusetts Amherst

May 13, 2004

Chancellor Joseph V. Lombardi:

As you know, in 1998 UMass Amherst entered into an exclusive "sponsorship agreement" with The Coca-Cola Co. that will expire at the end of August. As a 1967 graduate of UMass Amherst, with more than 35 years of involvement in social justice work, I am writing to ask your help in insuring that the Coke contract is not renewed.

Last year my organization, Corporate Campaign, Inc., spent several months investigating what the world's largest beverage company proudly calls the "Coca-Cola System." What we discovered is a multinational scofflaw - a "system" rife with corruption and immorality, deeply involved in gross human rights violations such as murder, torture and kidnapping. Only last month, the Swedish investment company, G.E.S. Investment Services, placed Coca-Cola on its list of bad corporate citizens, specifically citing reports of acts of violence, anti-union dismissals and murders of trade union officials at Coke's Colombian bottling plants.

In July 2001, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers of America filed a lawsuit on behalf of SINALTRAINAL (the National Union of Food Industry Workers in Colombia), several of its members and the estate of Isidro Gil, a union officer who was murdered at his workplace by paramilitary thugs who collaborated with management. The lawsuit charges that Coca-Cola bottlers "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilize extreme violence and murdered, kidnapped, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."

In January 2004, Hiram Monserrate, a member of the New York City Council and a former police officer, led a delegation on a 10-day, fact-finding mission to Colombia. The delegation's final report, released in April, said in part: "The conclusion that Coca-Cola bears responsibility for the campaign of terror leveled at its workers is unavoidable... (We) found both the quantity and the nature of Coca-Cola workers' allegations shocking and compelling. It seems indisputable that Coke workers have been systematically persecuted for their union activity (and)... that the company has allowed, if not itself orchestrated, the human rights violations of its workers, and it has benefited economically from those violations...In the face of this evidence, Coca-Cola's continued insistence that it bears no responsibility whatsoever for the terror campaigns against its workers is highly disturbing, as is its complete failure to investigate company ties to the paramilitaries." (The report can be found at

When the ILRF-Steelworkers lawsuit was filed, the former President and Chief Operating Officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises/Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York, Henry A. Schimberg, was vice chair and a director of Panamco, Coca-Cola's largest bottler in Colombia and a defendant in the lawsuit. The signature at the end of the Coca-Cola/UMass Amherst contract is Mr. Schimberg's. Last year, Panamco was acquired by Coca-Cola Femsa of Mexico.

As Forbes magazine (12/4/03) pointed out in an article entitled "Coke's Sinful World," "The biggest bottlers aren't subsidiaries of Coke, nor are they completely independent. Coke effectively controls them by maintaining big equity stakes and a heavy presence on their boards, and by providing their main source of business. Yet it keeps its stakes in the bottlers below 50%, thereby avoiding getting hit with their piles of debt and any unpleasant liabilities." Several of Coca-Cola's top officials, including President and Chief Operating Officer Steven Heyer and influential board member Herbert Allen, serve on Coca-Cola Femsa's board. The Coca-Cola Co. owns 46.4% of Coca-Cola Femsa's voting stock

Coca-Cola's deplorable record in Colombia fits a pattern of bad behavior around the world. The company has a long, documented record of racially discriminatory practices that continue to this day. Its misleading and fraudulent marketing and accounting practices are well known. It persecutes whistleblowers and workers who raise questions about occupational safety and health. It cheats employees out of their earnings. It aggressively markets nutritionally worthless and damaging products to children that help fuel the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics. It seizes, pollutes and overexploits vital water resources in India, Mexico, Ghana and elsewhere.

Last year, Coca-Cola laid off 3,700 workers while awarding its top six officers $8.4 million in bonuses, of which CEO Douglas Daft received the lion's share. His restricted stock awards are currently valued at $86 million. In 2001, when the lawsuit exposing some of its actions in Colombia was filed, Mr. Daft was paid $105 million. How's that for unrestrained greed?

Coca-Cola is still treating the horrific situation in Colombia as a public relations problem rather than investigating its complicity in egregious human right abuses. According to the Washington Post (4/22/04), one of the main reasons Deval Patrick, Coke's general counsel, executive vice president and corporate secretary, suddenly resigned on Easter Sunday — only 10 days before the annual stockholders' meeting — was because CEO Daft refused to allow him "to send a contingent of independent observers to inspect plants in Colombia," as Patrick had promised a group of public-interest lawyers previously. In short, the company that wants to quench your thirst with "the Real Thing" may never do the right thing unless we keep applying pressure. By allowing Coca-Cola to monopolize the market for beverages on campus, UMass Amherst compromises its good name and reputation as an institution where conscience counts and ethics matter.

Future contracts should be awarded to reputable suppliers who are responsible corporate citizens — a category that clearly excludes The Coca-Cola Co.

I would be happy to speak or meet with you to discuss this issue.


Ray Rogers
Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
Corporate Campaign, Inc.
(212) 979-8320

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