Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Update
Campaign & Allies Totally Dominate Coke Shareholders' Meeting April 25, 2005 Newsletter
Contents of This Newsletter
- Coke Shareholders' Meeting April 19 (Summarized Report)
- "Cal Safety Compliance Corp. is Not a Credible Monitor for Coca-Cola's Labor Practices," Statement by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)
- Union Theological Seminary Dumps Coca-Cola
- Hofstra U. wins vote!
- Campaign Director Ray Rogers interview on April 16 on Air America's "Ring of Fire."
- 2005 Left Forum Bans Coke
- Articles published since our last newsletter
- CNN Money, "Coke aids victims of Colombian violence," Reuters, April 13, 2005
- Coke Shareholders' Meeting April 19 (Detailed Report)
- Watch the annual meeting
1. Coke Shareholders' Meeting April 19 (Summarized Report)
Issues raised by the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke and its allies essentially took over the Coca-Cola shareholders' meeting in Wilmington, Delaware on April 19 - a tremendous victory for the Campaign. In fact, if it were a ballgame, we would have won 100 to 0.
The success at the meeting was distilled by the London Financial Times, "Coke's annual meeting felt more like a student protest rally. Chairman Neville Isdell faced two hours of hostile questioning from activist shareholders Much of the inquisition focused on Coke involvement in the murder of union leaders in Colombia. Other issues included the exploitation of scarce water resources in India, advertising of teeth-rotting drinks to children and heavy use of polluting plastic ordinary shareholders were clearly irritated by the hijacking of the meeting."
Coke CEO E. Neville Isdell responded to each of our speakers with three minutes of "You're wrong," "Your information is faulty" and "We've done nothing wrong."
Our involvement in the meeting, covered by the worldwide press including The New York Times and the Associated Press, is listed at the end of the full report along with links.
If you are interested in more specifics about the meeting and the direct challenges to Isdell and Coke, please read the detailed report at the end of this newsletter (No. 8).
2. "Cal Safety Compliance Corp. is Not a Credible Monitor for Coca-Cola's Labor Practices," Statement by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)
Read USAS Report
3. Union Theological Seminary Dumps Coca-Cola
"Upon the recommendation of the Seminary's Institutional and Community Affairs Committee, I have approved a boycott of Coca-Cola products on the Union Theological Seminary campus," said President Joseph C. Hough, Jr., in his announcement to the Seminary community. "This recommendation came with considerable evidence that firms associated with Coca-Cola have been engaged in actions that violate basic standards for human rights and environmental safety in countries outside the United States.
"Coca-Cola vending machines will be removed from Union by the close of the semester and replaced by other vending machines; administrative staff members have been instructed not to purchase Coca-Cola products for informal meals and receptions; and Showstoppers, the Seminary's in-house caterer, has agreed to stop offering Coca-Cola products."
The Christian Post, "Union Becomes First Seminary to Boycott Coca-Cola," By Marion Kim, April 21, 2005
Union Theological Seminary - New York City, "Press Release: Union Theological Seminary Kicks Coca-Cola Off Campus, April 19, 2005
Read Press Release
4. Hofstra U. wins vote!
"The student referendum on this week's SGA election ballot which proposed the discontinuation of the exclusive contract Hofstra has with Coca-Cola WON!!!!!! It received 526 votes, which was the highest amount of electoral support compared to any other candidate or referendum issue.
Listen to interview
6. 2005 Left Forum Bans Coke
During the opening plenary at the 2005 Left Forum at the CUNY Grad Center in New York attended by almost 1,000, four bottles of Dasani water, a Coke product, was on the table on the stage. Only author Barbara Ehrenriech drank an alternative to Dasani. Ehrenriech had previously met Campaign Director Ray Rogers during her recent speaking engagement at Rutgers University. They spoke and Ehrenriech protested Coke human rights abuses by dumping her Dasani water into a plant before a large crowd.
At the end of this plenary session, someone passed a Campaign leaflet up to the moderator criticizing the conference for distributing Coke's water. The moderator showed the leaflet, apologized and Dasani was no longer distributed during the conference.
Writer Barbara Garson, moderating a panel, scooped up all bottled water at the dais and substituted tap water in a pitcher and glasses for all the participants.
At the closing plenary, no Dasani was served.
- Washington Square News, "Coke refuses NYU's requests," By Barbara Leonard, April 21, 2005
Read Entire Letter to Coke CEO Isdell
Letter from Coke to NYU
- The Phoenix (Swarthmore College), "Anti-Coke activists hold panel, pursue shareholder action," By ARTHUR CHU, April 20, 2005
- The Michigan Daily, "Opinion: Viewpoint: Coke on Trial," By Jory Hearst, Kristin Purdy, Ilan Brandvain, Peter Woiwode and Sam Woll, April 19, 2005
- Financial Times (UK), "Coke settles SEC probe into Japanese unit," By Andrew Ward in Washington and Paul Gregan in London, April 19, 2005
- The Nation, "Beat the Devil: Message in a Bottle," By Alexander Cockburn
- The GW Hatch, "National student movement pushes Coca-Cola ban," by Katie Rooney
- WebIndia123.com, "This Kerala village fights against Coke to preserve its ground water,
- The Chronicle (Hofstra University), "Activists Join Anti-Coke Campaign," By Timothy Brunner
- Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Coke's Colombian controversy: Activists, students claim company is complicit in anti-union violence; Company says the facts support its stance," By Scott Leith
- UniversityDaily.net (Texas Tech), "Caffeine Complaints: Tech students protest Coca-Cola, try to prevent sales on campus," By Kelly Gooch
- Guardian Unlimited, UK, "Soft drink, hard task," April 13, 2005
CNN Money, "Coke aids victims of Colombian violence," Reuters, April 13, 2005
A response from the Campaign:
We are writing to let you know that, while the struggle is far from over, there is a positive achievement from our efforts, which we can point to. As this article indicates, Coke has created a $10 million social fund to aid victims of the war in Colombia. As the article also makes clear, this was done in the midst of (and clearly because of) the Coke campaign. You should be very proud that your efforts have obtained something real and good for people in Colombia. Many times in the movement, we cannot point to such concrete gains. So, it is important to recognize them when we do; this is such an occasion.
At the same time, we have not yet obtained the key demands of our struggle - an affirmative commitment on the part of Coca-Cola and its bottlers to take steps to prevent such violence in the future and justice for the victims of the violence against the Coca-Cola workers in Colombia. For this, we fight on!
Don't think of Coke as being generous. Remember - over the past five years, Coca-Cola has laid off thousands of workers while giving its top executives hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and stock options."
For this, we fight on! We are confident that we will achieve victory.
Students from colleges as faraway as Queens University, Canada; Smith College, Massachusetts, and the University of Michigan came to participate in the annual meeting, as well as campus representatives from New York University, Georgian Court University, Hofstra University, Union Theological Seminary, Rutgers University and Swarthmore College.
Organizations present at the meeting included the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, United Students Against Sweatshops, the India Resource Center, the Polaris Institute, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Corporate Accountability International.
We began the day with a colorful and spirited demonstration outside the Hotel Du Pont (see photos on this page). Those of us with proxies, entered the hotel for the meeting which began at 10:30 am - more than 20 of us. Our proxies were checked and approved at a desk and then we had to go through metal detectors and relinquish our cell phones, cameras and leaflets, before entering the meeting hall. In fact, security would not allow any other shareholders into the meeting with campaign literature that they had received from us outside the hotel.
Police and security were present in large numbers, but in a way that raises serious civil rights questions. Campaign Director Ray Rogers had been earlier informed that there would be a heavy presence of police, both uniformed and in plainclothes with visible police badges, and a paddy wagon nearby. When informed of this, Ray asked the lieutenant if the City was paying the police this year. He was told that none of the police, either uniformed or in plainclothes, were being paid by the City of Wilmington. They were all being paid by the hotel/Coca-Cola. (Last year, Ray was assaulted by hotel security as he was speaking. He was threatened with arrest and removed from the hotel by people who identified themselves as police, but who, in fact, were not on duty and were not being paid by the City.)
Coke CEO Neville Isdell opened the meeting by discussing Coke's financial situation and then spent a long time speaking about Colombia: We all choked when Isdell described himself as a former student activist. He said: "As a former student activist, I came to the Colombia issue with an open mind...But ultimately I came to the conclusion that the allegations are not true." And he backed up his position with a description of the Cal Safety investigation, which was paid for by Coca-Cola. Cal Safety is a Los Angeles-based corporation whose monitoring practices have been completely discredited in articles in publications, such as the Los Angeles Times, Business Week, a book, "Monitoring Sweatshops" by Dr. Jill Esbenshade, and a recent analysis in a statement by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) (Read USAS Statement).
Campaign Director Ray Rogers ridiculed the Cal Safety report as "tantamount to the fox guarding the henhouse...I'm sure Coca-Cola paid them a lot of money to buy their allegiance, as many other corporations do."
The next item on the agenda was the election of the Board of Directors. At that point shareholders' and proxy holders lined both sides of the auditorium at the two mikes set up for the audience to speak - almost all of whom were supporting our positions - about a dozen on each side of the room.
Three sensitive issues were immediately highlighted - Colombia, India and Coke's undermining the health of children:
Ray Rogers was the first to speak. Each speaker was given three minutes, according to Isdell's Rules of Order, with a very large digital clock in front counting down from three minutes. Isdell noted that he would also abide by the time limit, although he could speak following every speaker from the floor.
Ray started out by challenging Isdell to a head-to-head debate as a response to Isdell's stream of misinformation. Of course, Isdell turned him down: "I get many of those (requests) and I respectfully decline that at this point in time."
Ray continued by asking what Coke directors were going to do "to stop the growing movement worldwide by colleges, universities and high schools, labor unions, human rights groups and others from banning Coke products from their facilities and functions." He went on to highlight the campuses and unions that have banned Coke products.
He ended by stating "Mr. Isdell, I thought Dasani tap water was one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the public, but your recent bogus report by Cal Safety takes the cake! Coke obviously paid a lot of money to this company like it does to many of its executives to hide and cover up Coke's crimes and misdeeds and to keep their mouths shut."
Next was Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center who talked strongly about the water situation in India. He stated "In a country like India, where over 70% of the population still makes its living from agriculture - if you take away their water and you poison their land, that is a sure recipe for disaster..." He went on to say that leaders in one Indian village have refused to allow a Coca-Cola plant there to reopen after its being closed for over a year. The village council will not renew the license of the company because the company is depleting the village water supply.
Third was Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood who spoke about Coke's products and their connection to childhood obesity and its attendant health problems. Josh finished by stating:
"It is past time for Coca-Cola to stop undermining parents' efforts to raise healthy children and:
"Publicly acknowledge that some of Coca-Cola's products are contributing to health problems for children;
"End all marketing aimed at children - including Coke toys, product placement, tie-ins with children's media, and in-school marketing.
"Stop lobbying against policies that would help combat childhood obesity."
Numerous students and members of the other participating organizations also took the mikes and strongly and confidently challenged Coke for many of the same things. Student Jon Petkun, representing Swarthmore College's 58,000 shares of Coke stock, asked "how board managers will address this problem given that activists around the world and Campaign members do not trust Cal Safety's inquiry...?"
Nafisah Ula of the University of Michigan's Campaign to Kick Coca-Cola Off of Our Campus, a coalition of 20 student groups, comprised of over 5,000 students, including 1,700 members of the graduate student union, stated: "Our campaign is not swayed by this false and misleading Cal Safety report. Cal Safety is not an independent monitoring company..."
Sam Hirsch, chair emeritus of the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition criticized the poor methodology used by Cal Safety in questioning workers: "If I were asked in that environment, even if the group is honest, as you may state, which I question anyway," Sam said, "I would never respond knowing that if the word got out that I said something bad about it (the company), I would become the next target."
Isdell was consistent -"You're wrong. We've done nothing wrong! Your information is faulty."
At some point, Isdell arbitrarily cut off discussion leaving numerous speakers standing in line and then tried to move on to another issue.
Vanessa Cudabac, student at Hofstra University, took the mike and began speaking about Colombia and the Campaign at Hofstra. Isdell interrupted her to get her back on his agenda. Vanessa bravely remained firm and ignored him. She continued: "People at Hofstra University are disgusted at the Coca-Cola Co." Vanessa stated that Hofstra stands in solidarity with victims in Colombia, India, and children doing child labor in El Salvador. She finished by saying that the campaign is committed to getting Coke off campus and to "make sure our university is no longer defiled by the Coca-Cola name." In the two days following the meeting, Hofstra students voted in a referendum to support the removal of Coke from campus and passed it.
Illai Kenney, a national coordinator for Black Youth Vote working with the Corporate Accountability International contingent, talked about Coke's "irresponsible practices in India." She said that "water is not a luxury; water is a human right...access to water is a life and death issue...Your practices there are wrong and they must stop."
Isdell then moved on to the shareholders' resolutions. The first was a request by the New York City retirement systems, the New York City Employees' Retirement System and the New York City Teachers' Retirement System, that The Coca-Cola Co. "sponsor the sending of an independent delegation of inquiry to Colombia to examine the charges of collusion and anti-union violence that have been made against officials of Coca-Cola's bottling plants in that country, and that the delegation includes representatives from U.S. and Colombian human rights organizations." New York City pension funds representative Patrick Dougherty spoke in support of the resolution, representing 6.6 million shares of Coke.
In his statement, Dougherty noted that "allegations made against Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia have led to negative publicity, lawsuits, public protests and widespread calls for consumer boycotts of Coca-Cola products."
Isdell recommended a vote against the resolution.
Emma Roderick, a student from Smith College, spoke to the motion and criticized Cal Safety's inability to uncover abuses in a California factory where Chinese workers were kept under conditions of slavery. Emma noted that Cal Safety's methodology was "flawed," including the number of hours spent on their "investigation," the lack of privacy during interviews done on the factory floor and the fact that Cal Safety warned the company ahead of time when they were coming. Emma said to Isdell: "You keep talking about trying to change people's perceptions about what's going on in Colombia. but actually (you must) change what's going on in Colombia."
A Teamster, Ed Weber, who worked for Coke for 31 years and is now working for Teamsters Local 812 in New York representing 2,000 Coke workers, brought up the Colombian situation, the campus boycotts and its impact on Teamster jobs and families. He said to Isdell: "Your unwillingness to work with the Colombian union and protect union workers that produce our products threatens to decrease our bottom line and my livelihood. As top executives come and go, my family's security depends on the success of our company. When will you address the needs of Coke workers in Colombia so that our company can get back to business? Something needs to get done."
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters submitted a resolution to seek shareholder approval for future severance agreements with senior executives. The Teamster reading the resolution, Carin Zelenko, noted that executives leaving the company regularly get huge compensation packages whether or not they have performed well.
Corporate Accountability International's Gigi Kellett said: "Ensuring that people have access to water is an emerging global crisis. In draining water from communities for soft drinks and bottled water, Coke is an industry leader that threatens this very basic human right. The soft drink giant gets away with these irresponsible and dangerous actions because of its political and economic clout. Our members are joining with people around the world to reject Coke's abuses."
After the business session, Isdell took a few questions and comments. Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute was first. Tony addressed the issue of plastic bottles used for Coke's products and Coke's connection with Dow Chemical and the plastics industry. He noted that these bottles are made up of a combination of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. They get thrown away and end up in landfills where they seep into the ground water systems and contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change. The leeching from the plastic and chemicals back into the water may create liability issues that the company must address. Tony finished by calling for the removal of the Dow Chemical representative (J. Pedro Reinhard) from the board, the need to find a substitute for the plastic and to, at least, make the bottles of recyclable materials. It should be noted that the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has targeted Reinhard in Canada.
Karl Flecker, also of the Polaris Institute, spoke about Coke's lack of "integrity," pointing out that they take potable municipal water and sell a refiltered product at a price thousands of times higher than the raw water. He continued that they claim that they use a sophisticated purification process, reverse osmosis, when the professionals in the field consider the process so inexpensive that they give it away free and make money on the filters. Finally, he ridiculed Coke's recent Dasani water commercials. "You're missing the mark, Neville."
Jim Fassett-Carman of Corporate Accountability International spoke about the resistance movement in India against The Coca-Cola Co. He said that Coca-Cola's practices are devastating people's lives in India.
At the end of the day, quite a few participants were not able to speak, including Ranjit Matthews from Union Theological Seminary, which a week earlier had made a decision to ban Coke products from its campus. Also left standing in line at the microphones were Dave Hancock from New York University and Amy Bahruth from Rutgers University, two of the nation's largest campuses where highly-visible campaigns continue to ban Coca-Cola products.
The press coverage was extensive, including such publications as The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The News Journal (Delaware), and the Financial Times (UK). In addition, the AP article was published in newspapers all over the world.
The following articles were published about the annual meeting:v
WebIndia123.com, "Shareholders accuse Coca Cola of misleading them on adverse India report," April 23, 2005
The New York Times, "Coke Finds Its Bright Spots in Faraway Places," By MELANIE WARNER, April 20, 2005
Financial Times (London, England), "Flat Coke," April 20, 2005
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Coke's day a mix of profits, protests," By Scott Leith, April 20, 2005
The News Journal (Delaware), "Being heard in Wilmington:Shareholders meetings bring city recognition, revenue - and protesters," By LULADEY B. TADESSE, April 20, 2005
Read Article with Photos (of Vanessa Codabac of Hofstra University and Ryan Bates of University of Michigan)
CJAD (Quebec, Canada), Associated Press, "Coca-Cola Co. pledges to change perception of its practices abroad," BY HARRY R. WEBER AP BUSINESS WRITER, April 19, 2005
Campaign to Stop KILLER COKE
We are seeking your help to stop a gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings, and torture of union leaders and organizers involved in daily life-and-death struggles at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, South America.
"If we lose the fight against Coca-Cola, we will first lose our union, next our jobs and then our lives." SINALTRAINAL VIce President Juan Carlos Galvis
Learn the truth about The Coca-Cola Co.
"We believe the evidence shows that Coca-Cola and its corporate network are rife with immorality, corruption and complicity in murder."
Campaign to Stop Killer Coke/Corporate Campaign, Inc. Director Ray Rogers