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Coca-Cola's virtual battle

El Espectador
By Alfonso Rico Torres
4/28/05
English Translation

The multinational drink company, Coca-Cola, one of the largest in the world, present in restaurants, shops, bars, and in general, every part of the world, is fighting a battle over the internet.

It has to do with two web sites that are in conflict. The first of them, www.killercoke.org, seeks to discredit the brand because of various problems that the brand faces for its alleged connection to the paramilitaries in Colombia. The second, www.cokefacts.org, denies these publications in order to avoid financial collapses and image problems.

In the first site, the promoters of the anti-Coca-Cola campaign say they have gotten several universities to cut their contracts with the Company. Separately, several Colombian unionists are participating in conferences to support that campaign, and leftist US groups joined the cause.

Coca-Cola responded to its adversaries with another internet site, reminding people that they have operated in Colombia for 70 years. They show the company's friendly face through photographs of employees at bottling plants, and a text that says: "Working with Colombians to create a stronger nation."

From a legal perspective, the officials at the company headquartered in Atlanta (US) argue that the issue has already been investigated. "The accusation that Coca-Cola and its local Colombian bottlers could be linked to the violence against Colombian union leaders is false," said Lori Billingsley, spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, through a letter sent to the Miami Herald.

The offensive

Killercoke.org is a site that promotes the campaign of Ray Rogers, director of the organization Corporate Campaign, located in New York, and one of the world greatest promoters of unionism.

He, along with several American and Irish unions, organized the Killer Coke campaign, which aims to use the web to raise awareness of the alleged connections between the drink company and the paramilitaries that operate in Colombia.

On his web page, Rogers publishes articles about alleged threats against Colombian unionists, some of who are exiled in the US. Also, supposed human rights violations, persecutions and testimonies of former Coca-Cola employees in Colombia who maintain that company managers sponsored the elimination of the unions, in collaboration with the paramilitaries.

"Fortune magazine has said that this is the worst public relations nightmare that Coca-Cola could imagine. We have their attention," said Rogers, in an interview with the La Jornada newspaper of Mexico.

Immediately on going to his site, a dead body appears with its feet showing the corresponding identification, and next to him, a sentence that says that they seek help to end a cycle of assassinations, kidnappings, and torture of workers and organizations related to Coca-Cola. You can also see photographs of student protests, as well as several posters that make fun of the company.

Workers' organizations in Colombia and the United Steelworkers Union of the US joined the campaign. The Steelworkers Union presented a lawsuit in the US against Coca-Cola and the Mexican company Femsa, owner of the multinational's bottling plants in Colombia.

The plaintiffs allege that these companies hired paramilitaries to murder unionists. "Do the Femsa shareholders know that this lawsuit in the United States could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars?" asked Rogers.

"We are looking for student and academic leaders to see if Coca-Cola has a presence at universities like UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). We want to know if they are interested in joining the Killer Coke campaign," Rogers added.

According to him, his web campaign has gotten six US universities and three Irish universities to cancel the sale of Coca-Cola products on their campuses. These include Michigan, Notre Dame and Iowa. At the latter, Gerardo Cajamarca, Colombian unionist exiled in the US, gave presentations about the issue.

Counteroffensive

Through the website www.cokefacts.org, the drink company has shown its good side. On the homepage you can see a truck with a quote that says "The truth about The Coca-Cola Co. around the world".

There is a note saying that an evaluation by a monitoring organization found no case of violence or intimidation in the multinational's bottling headquarters in Colombia. This is linked to an archive with the details of the investigation.

The website has a space where anyone can send questions about their activities. There is also a space set aside to refute allegations similar to those related to Colombia, but in India.

On the legal side, The Coca-Cola Co. sent a group of high-level executives to the US universities to refute the stories that have tarnished their image and that, according to analysts, already caused the company to lose millions of dollars.

They already had their first major triumph. In March of this year, Rogers proposed the cancellation of the Coca-Cola contract at New York University. Some of the administrators were persuaded, but others were not, and when they voted, Rogers' initiative was not adopted.

Despite the fact that the dispute between the two websites centers on the issue of violence in Colombia, neither is written in Spanish. The experts try to explain the reason. "The boycott is more well-known in the US than in Colombia," said Camilo Romero, a Colombian sociologist in favor of the Killer Coke campaign.

The company has an ally on its side: the press, who has written about the site cokefacts.org because they don't want to have one of the most important companies in the world on their bad side.

"As members of the Notre Dame community, each of us is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Co., whether it be through general donations made to the university, or through scholarships and other assistance," said an editorial in the university newspaper The Observer, from Notre Dame University in Indiana, which stopped buying products from the company.

Although it is unknown what will happen with the criminal charges, the two websites will continue the fight to blacken or clear the name of Coca-Cola. Go to the sites, and make your own conclusions.

What is the Coca-Cola Foundation doing in Colombia?

This week, the Foundation announced the donation of 10 million dollars to create an organization that will be called Colombian Foundation for Education and Opportunity.

The new entity will aim to attend to the needs of the most needy population, particularly displaced persons.

The Foundation will work with NGOs to contribute to the generation of academic and work opportunities for sectors where indices of violence are highest.

The Foundation will be an independent non-profit institution administrated by the Board of Directors.

This Board of the Colombian Foundation will be composed of Carlos Rodriguez, president of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) since 2002; Maria Emma Mejia, president of Fundacion Pies Descalzos; and Miguel Urrutia, former president of the Banco de la Republica.

Other directors are: Luis Carlos Villegas, President of the National Industrial Association (ANDI); Jose Fernando Isaza, President of the Colombian Automobile Company; Floro Tunubala, former governor of the department of Cauca; Samuel Azout Papu, president of Carulla Vivero and Francisco de Roux, a Jesuit priest, director of the Development and Peace Program of Magdalena Medio.

According to Ingrid Saunders Jones, vice president of The Coca-Cola Co. and Director of the Coca-Cola Foundation, "this is one of the largest and most significant donations that the Foundation has made outside of the United States."

The creation of this new entity had the support of the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers Union, as well as other institutions.

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