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WB 11, New York TV News: KillerCoke Investigative Report

Watch Television News Feature on the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke

August 31, 2005 News Bulletin

"The conclusion that Coca-Cola bears responsibility for the campaign of terror leveled at its workers is unavoidable..." — New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate on WB11's Fact Finders Report.

On July 11, 2005, WB11, one of New York City area's major television stations aired a special "Fact Finders Report" on the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke called "Coca-Cola Faces Human Rights Violations." The story was produced by news anchor Peter Thorne for the evening news. Interviewed are New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate, New York City Comptroller William Thompson, American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Secretary-Treasurer Terry Stapleton, Hofstra University Campaign Activist Vanessa Cudabac and Campaign Director Ray Rogers. This excellent feature was watched by millions on WB11 and, as we found out from supporters, watched by others around the world on satellite television.

See "Fact Finders Report: Coca-Cola Faces Human Rights Violations." To access the video:

WB11, New York Feature on the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
On July 11, 2005, WB11, one of New York City area's major television stations aired a special "Fact Finders Report" on the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke called "Coca-Cola Faces Human Rights Violations." Interviewed are Campaign Director Ray Rogers, Hofstra University Campaign Activist Vanessa Cudabac, New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate, New York City Comptroller William Thompson and American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Secretary-Treasurer Terry Stapleton. This excellent feature was watched by millions on WB11 and, as we found out from supporters, watched by others around the world on satellite television.
Watch Video
Read the Campaign's response to Coke's lies in this feature.

The Coca-Cola Co. refused to be interviewed by WB11, but issued a series of lies and misleading statements to which we respond:

1. It was reported that The Coca-Cola Co. was dismissed from the Alien Tort Claims lawsuit filed on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, the union representing Coke workers in Colombia; several of its members, and the survivors of Isidro Gil, one of its murdered officers. The lawsuit charges that Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia, "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."

KillerCoke.org Response: In March 2003, when the judge inappropriately dismissed The Coca-Cola Co. from the lawsuit, it had nothing to do with the merits of the case. We firmly believe that the ruling will be reversed. It's clear that the judge found prematurely, and in error, that The Coca-Cola Co. did not have sufficient ownership or control of its bottlers to be liable. The judge made his decision prior to discovery and the opportunity for plaintiffs to prove that The Coca-Cola Co. does have ownership and control. Also, the judge's decision was based on a single document — a sample bottlers' agreement that Coca-Cola admitted wasn't the actual agreement with the Colombian bottlers cited in the lawsuit.

In Dec. 2003, Forbes Magazine pointed out in an article entitled "Coke's Sinful World," what we already knew:

"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."

The Coca-Cola Company owns 39.6% of the economic stock and 46.4% of the voting stock of Coca-Cola FEMSA, its largest Colombian bottler and a defendant in the lawsuit. Many of Coca-Cola's highest-ranking executives serve as directors or alternate directors on Coca-Cola FEMSA's board.

In addition, the District Court failed to take into account documents admittedly created by Coca-Cola (i.e., letters to consumers and a statement to shareholders) in which the company frankly acknowledged its control over workplace practices and its right to inspect the plants to ensure that local managers abide by human rights conventions and domestic law.

Of course, Coca-Cola chooses to ignore the fact that the court did allow the lawsuit to proceed against its Colombian bottlers, acknowledging that the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that these bottlers engaged in the same type of serious human rights abuses or crimes against humanity, as defined under international law, that the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 and the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1992 are intended to correct. Questions about the lawsuit can be directed at attorneys Terry Collingsworth (terry.collingsworth@ilrf.org) and Derek Baxter (derek.baxter@ilrf.org) of the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and Dan Kovalik (dkovalik@uswa.org) of the United Steelworkers. The lawsuit can be viewed on the ILRF's site at www.laborrights.org in "Current Projects" — "Coca-Cola Abuses in Colombia."

2. Coca-Cola's Statement: "The allegations are completely false...that The Coca-Cola Co. and its local Colombian bottling partners may be connected to violence against union workers in Colombia. Two different judicial inquiries...have examined these issues and found no evidence of wrongdoing."

KillerCoke.org Response: No court in Colombia has ever ruled on the human rights claims being brought against Coca-Cola. The hypocrisy in Coke's statement is further unveiled by U.S. State Dept. human rights reports. These reports point out that only a handful of the thousands of murders of Colombian trade unionists in recent years have ever resulted in successful prosecutions. "Cases where the instigators and perpetrators of the murders of trade union leaders are identified are practically nonexistent, as is the handing down of guilty verdicts," the State Dept. asserts. In light of this, it is not surprising that the plaintiffs cannot secure justice through the Colombian courts. That's why they are seeking redress through the U.S. courts in the first place.

It should be noted that what is happening in Colombia today happened at Coke's bottling plant in Guatemala City in the 70's and 80's. The back cover of "Soft Drink, Hard Labour," a booklet published in 1987 by the Latin America Bureau in England, states:

"For nine years the 450 workers at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City fought a battle with Coca-Cola for their jobs, their trade union and their lives. Three times they occupied the plant — on the last occasion for thirteen months. Three General Secretaries of their union were murdered and five other workers killed. Four more were kidnapped and have disappeared.

"Against all the odds they survived, thanks to their own extraordinary courage and help from fellow trade unionists in Guatemala and around the world. A huge international campaign of protests and boycotts was central to their struggle. As a result, the Coca-Cola workers forced concessions from one of the world's largest multinational food giants and kept the Guatemalan trade union movement alive through a dark age of government repression."

3. Coca-Cola's Statement: "...a respected, independent third party found no instances of anti-union violence or intimidation at bottling plants."

KillerCoke.org Response: The Coca-Cola Co. is referring to a bogus report by Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, a Los Angeles-based company. The report was commissioned and paid for by The Coca-Cola Co. Cal Safety's monitoring record has been widely discredited in publications from the Los Angeles Times to Business Week. "Cal-Safety is not regarded as a credible monitoring organization within the mainstream worker rights advocate community as a result of its track record of missing egregious violations in high profile cases and its flawed monitoring methodology." (See "United Students Against Sweatshops Statement on Cal Safety" at: www.killercoke.org/resolution_usascal.php)

The USAS statement further exposes Cal Safety's poor monitoring track record by describing the results of a thorough investigation into Cal Safety's monitoring methodology by Dr. Jill Esbenshade, presented in the recently released book, "Monitoring Sweatshops." In her research, Esbenshade conducted extensive interviews with Cal-Safety auditors and directly observed the company's labor auditing in practice. Given the problematic practices documented, Cal-Safety's poor track record is perhaps not surprising. In numerous key areas, Cal Safety failed to adhere to minimum accepted standards for competent factory investigation.

Prior to the Cal Safety report, Coca-Cola repeatedly claimed that another group had done an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses by Coke's bottlers in Colombia which totally exonerated both Coca-Cola and its bottlers from any wrongdoing. When students at Carleton College in Minnesota asked who did the report and could they obtain a copy, they were told by a Coca-Cola representative that the report was done by White & Case but it was unavailable to the public. What the Coca-Cola representative did not reveal is that White & Case is a large international corporate law firm that represents Coca-Cola in the Alien Tort Claims lawsuit regarding human rights abuses at its Colombia bottling plants. Alexis Rovzar, who is an executive partner at White & Case, serves as a director of Coca-Cola FEMSA, Colombia's largest Coca-Cola bottler and a defendant in the lawsuit.

4. Coca-Cola CEO E. Neville Isdell is heard on the broadcast saying, "We have solid relationships with organized labor in Colombia." Isdell's rote public relations statement is reinforced by Cola-Cola worldwide which sends out similarly misleading information. Responding to an inquiry in Aug 2005, Coca-Cola wrote:

"The Coca-Cola Co. and our bottling partners have been valuable members of the Colombian community for more than 70 years and we respect the rights of all employees, including those who choose to be represented by labor unions. In fact, our bottling partners enjoy extensive relations with 12 separate unions in Colombia and currently have collective bargaining agreements in place with all of the unions covering wages, benefits and working conditions. In addition, more than 30 percent of Coca-Cola system workers in Colombia are unionized, in a country where the average for all companies is about four percent...and employs approximately 8,000 people in Colombia..."

KillerCoke.org Response: This is an outright lie! If, according to Coca-Cola statements, more than 30% of the Coca-Cola system workers in Colombia are unionized and the system now employs 8,000, then approximately 2,400 Coca-Cola workers in Colombia belong to unions. This simply is not true, nor is it true that Coca-Cola's bottlers in Colombia, "enjoy extensive relations with 12 separate unions." About 95 percent of the workers in the Coca-Cola system are considered "flexible" workers with no union representation. They are employed through various subcontracting schemes. They receive low pay, no benefits, and have no job security or future with the Company. Many of them are mired in the slums in poverty. When Coca-Cola states that more than 30 percent of their employees are union members, they are talking only about a small number of workers whose jobs have not yet been subcontracted. The actual percentage of workers in the Coca-Cola system who belong to unions is approximately 5 percent at best.

Coke's claims that it has extensive relations with a dozen unions is a far stretch of the imagination. Many of those unions really exist only on paper and all the unions combined, excluding SINALTRAINAL, represent a tiny number of Coke workers. SINALTRAINAL represents the vast majority of those employees working for Coke who are unionized. One of those unions of which Coke is speaking is SICO. The president of SICO was expelled by his previous union, representing brewery workers, for espousing extreme right-wing views. SICO was set up in Carepa, Antioquia, at the local Coca-Cola bottling plant where SINALTRAINAL had earlier been destroyed after union officer Isidro Gil and several SINALTRAINAL members had been murdered. Dozens of other union members threatened with death were forced to resign from the union and fled the area in fear for their lives. SICO, which in essence replaced SINALTRAINAL, coexists peacefully with the paramilitary forces that control this part of Colombia.

Another union that The Coca-Cola Co. claims does not support SINALTRAINAL and is unaware of company-sponsored violence is SINALTRAINBEC. On June 21, 2001, Oscar Soto Polo, a local president of SINALTRAINBEC, was assassinated during negotiations with Coke's bottler, as is often true of the timing of assassinations the Coke unions have been experiencing. An article in TIME Magazine International Edition entitled: "Under the Gun; Execution-style killings have Colombia's trade-union activists running scared," (by Peter Katel and reported by Ruth Morris/Monteria, Colombia) describes SINALTRAINAL as "an ally of Soto's organization." Perhaps SINALTRAINBEC has had a change of heart due to the leadership change, which resulted from this murder and the chilling effect it had on the union.

In an October 29, 2004 report prepared for the Human Rights Committee of the American Anthropological Assn, entitled "Labor and Human Rights: The Real Thing in Colombia, American University Professor Lesley Gill stated that: "Eighty percent of the Coca-Cola work force is now composed of non-union, temporary workers, and wages for these individuals are only a quarter of those earned by their unionized counterparts. Coca-Cola has consistently pressured unionized workers to resign... Coca-Cola is in fact a stridently anti-union company, and the destruction of Sinaltrainal, as well as the capacity to drive wages into the ground, is one of the primary goals of the extra-judicial violence directed against workers..."

Professor Gill's report was based on her investigation in Colombia between May 23 and June 5, 2004, which included numerous interviews she conducted in Bogota, Barrancabermeja, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, and Cartegena. In July, 2005, Prof. Gill returned to Colombia and on Aug. 4, 2005, she reported, "Based on recent interviews and discussions with Sinaltrainal representatives in Bogota from July 3-17, 2005, there is little evidence to suggest that the Coca-Cola Company has substantially changed its business practices in Colombia."

Earlier in January 2004, New York City Council Member and former police officer Hiram Monserrate led a delegation on a 10-day, fact-finding tour to Colombia to investigate allegations of human rights violations by Coca-Cola. As one member said upon returning, "We heard one story after another of torture and injustice. The sheer number of these testimonials was overwhelming." The delegation issued a scathing report in April concluding that "Coca-Cola is complicit in human rights abuses of its workers in Colombia" — and its "complicity is deepened by its repeated pattern of bringing criminal charges against union activists who have spoken out about the company's collusion with paramilitaries." (See full report and appendices)

In July, 2005, the Colombia Solidarity Campaign based in London, published "The Anti-Coke Manifesto" authored by its secretary, Andy Higginbottom. This excellent and well-documented pamphlet reported that in 1993 SINALTRAINAL had 1,440 members in Coke plants. By 2004, that number had fallen to 389 members. He explains that since at least the early-1990s, Coke has used brutal methods to maximize return on its investments in Colombia. The Company has taken full advantage of anti-labor policies it promotes and is embodied in the political structure of Colombia. Higginbottom writes:

"Colombia neoliberalism as an economic model — identifed especially by the policies of privatisation, deregulation and the flexibilisation' of labour — was imposed from 1990 onwards. In that year two labour laws were passed, law 50 for the private sector and law 60 covering the public sector...Law 50 dispensed with nearly every legal protection for permanent employment contracts, which encouraged subcontracting and temporary working. As a result there are very few private industry trade unions left.

"In 1990 the 'Coca-Cola system' in Colombia employed over twelve thousand workers, of whom nine thousand had permanent employment contracts. By 2001 there were only two thousand five hundred direct employees, and by the beginning of 2005 less than a thousand workers had stable employment contracts. The workforce employed in the 'Coca-Cola system' in Colombia is still nearly ten thousand workers, but 90 per cent of these are now flexible' workers, employed indirectly through various forms of sub-contracting..."

KillerCoke.org Conclusion: The Coca-Cola Co. spends $2.6 billion a year in advertising to create an image that has nothing to do with the ugly reality behind the Company. It is clear that Coca-Cola and many of its bottlers, including Mexico-based Colombian bottler Coca-Cola Femsa, want to exploit workers to the maximum and operate in union-free environments. In Turkey, Indonesia and Eritrea, Coca-Cola bottlers, backed by police, are involved in other despicable efforts to crush unions' and workers' efforts to organize to better their lives. Coke will steal your water, pollute your environment, ruin the health of your children and try to enslave the fathers and mothers who produce and distribute its soft drinks.

These are the reasons why more people worldwide now think of Coca-Cola beverages as "Unthinkable!" and "Undrinkable!"

See "Fact Finders Report: Coca-Cola Faces Human Rights Violations."

For further information, call Lew, Ray or Pat at the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke at (718) 852-2808 or email: info@KillerCoke.org. (Please include your phone number in any email correspondence.)

Other sites with information on these issues:

CIEPAC (Chiapas, Mexico)

Colombia Solidarity Campaign

Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood

Human rights Watch

India Resource Center

International Labor Rights Fund

Polaris Institute

Soda in School: Illegality of Exclusive Soda "Pouring Rights" Agreements in School (Ross Getman)

SINALTRAINAL

United Students Against Sweatshops

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