Campaign to Stop Killer Coke | Special Report April 30, 2009
Contents of This Report
- Report on the 2009 Coca-Cola Annual Shareholders' Meeting
- May 2 Brooklyn Food Conference
- Become a Coca-Cola Facebook Critic
- Get a KillerCoke Tee-shirt: Help publicize and build the Worldwide Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, India Resource Center, Corporate Accountability International, SINALTRAINAL and supporters met in Duluth, Georgia, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, to attend the 2009 Coca-Cola annual shareholders' meeting on April 22.
In our last online newsletter, we asked supporters who are shareholders to send us their proxies. Over the years, our allies and we have received numerous proxies from stockholders throughout the United States. This year, we were able to bring in Atlanta-area supporters who questioned the policymakers of Coca-Cola around issues of child labor, human rights and environmental abuses.
Our intention was to confront the company's policymakers about their worldwide abuses. We exceeded our expectations by completely dominating the discussion once former CEO E. Neville Isdell and current CEO Muhtar Kent had completed their glowing portrayal of The Coca-Cola Company.
Since we could not expect to get a large number of demonstrators to Duluth, our campaign decided to create a mobile billboard that drew a lot of public attention and accolades. The two huge hardhitting 10' x 23' billboards and a 5' x 3' one were fastened to the sides and the back of a truck. We had recently made one "Funds Cities and Towns, Not Biotech Fatcats" for our campaign with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 in Massachusetts directed against Boston-area biotech firms (See www.stopbiotechlooting.org.)
We contacted Coast2Coast Mobile Media in Georgia and sent the company the graphics to be used on their truck. We scheduled the mobile billboard to be present during the annual meeting in Duluth, Georgia and had it travel throughout Atlanta for five days. The mobile billboard truck visited media sites where Ray Rogers was interviewed; campuses, including Emory University, Georgia State University and Georgia Tech, and traveled around corporate offices including Coke, Coca-Cola Enterprises, The World of Coca-Cola, SunTrust Banks and King & Spalding (Coke's union-busting lawyers).
We would like to thank David McGlory and his Coast2Coast Mobile Media (770-873-7565). As you can see from the photos and videos above, his work was terrific. He was on schedule and very supportive of our campaign, wearing a Killer Coke tee-shirt and handing out our leaflets to all those asking. His special sound equipment playing David Rovics's "Drink of the Death Squads" attracted lots of attention.
Each year, at the beginning of the shareholders meeting, Chair Neville Isdell has tried to come up with a new method of maintaining tight control over the meeting, so he could keep us from stating our views. One year it was color-coded cards. Another year, Isdell reduced the speaking time from three minutes to two minutes. This year Isdell made it clear that he would be tighter in not allowing anyone to speak off topic.
After Isdell's and Kent's preliminary nonsense remarks equating Coke with Happiness and Kent's farewell to a retiring Isdell, Isdell took over the meeting for the last time and moved to the election of directors.
Our director, Ray Rogers, was recognized to ask a question regarding the election of the directors. However, Ray was introduced by staff as Roy Rogers. Ray began humorously, saying: "Roy Rogers is no longer with us. Fortunately, I am."
"My name is Ray Rogers and I and thousands of Coca-Cola workers are not happy. Before I cast my vote for election of directors, I need to inquire what role members of the board and especially Donald McHenry, chair of the Public Issues Committee, and others on the committee, including Cathleen Black, Alexis Herman, Donald Keough, Sam Nunn and Jacob Wallenberg plan to do to thoroughly investigate and monitor, through credible independent groups, allegations of dreadful labor and human rights abuses related to Coca-Cola's operations in China, Colombia and elsewhere.
"I want to know if the board will continue to turn a blind eye to the kinds of recurring, unethical conduct that has earned executives of this company and many of its bottlers, the reputation of being among the world's worst liars, scam artists and white collar criminals.
"In December, Coca-Cola came under fire in China based on undercover investigations by a group of university students working at several Coke plants. The press reported findings that workers at these plants are "involved in the most dangerous, intense and tiresome labor, work the longest hours, but receive the lowest wages and face arrears and even cutbacks in their pay." One investigator claimed that Coke violated Chinese labor laws and reported that workers "often worked 12 hours per day for an entire month without a single day off."
"In 2007 the British Broadcasting Corporations reported that Coca-Cola has been accused of benefiting from prison labor in China.
"And of course, Coca-Cola through its CEO's on down, continues to obstruct and lie about every effort to pursue independent investigations of allegations that its bottlers in Colombia, including Coca-Cola FEMSA, have been involved in the systematic intimidation, torture and murder of union leaders in efforts to crush their union SINALTRAINAL.
"Will this board of multimillionaires ever have the decency to make sure the company acts responsibly in these matters?"
Isdell's responses during this meeting were the same as they were over the past number of years. "That's not true," "Your facts are wrong," Your facts aren't up to date," "We have taken care of that issue," "There have been many investigations proving our company innocent," - in other words a pat corporate answer — denial, denial, denial.
The next speaker, shareholder John Evans, President of Operation LEAD (Leadership to End All Discrimination), an independent critic of the company, spoke about the advanced age of the board and that the company should be looking for younger directors. In addition, he stated that he had a one-page flyer to distribute, but that the company refused to allow it. He said:
"I came here prepared to give out a sheet that covered all of the things that we are going to vote on to each one of the shareholders and I thought they were going to lock me up for distributing material related to this session and so it makes you think that shareholders are not respected and it makes no sense to not allow some people to speak on more than one - I had no intention to speak on more than one - but they would not let me pass out the material...They kept me from passing out the materials to the shareholders. I think that's awful!
However, we asked for a copy of his materials and he gave it to us.
His leaflet first noted that the "average age for all board nominees this year is 67 years old. I am sure," Mr. Evans wrote, "we have some young capitalist in this country who can serve us well."
On Independent Auditors he wrote: "We call them Independent Auditors but are they really independent. I don't think so. The longer they stay the cozier they get with the Coca-Cola Company. I would like to know how many Blacks Ernst and Young have in Real upper management positions.
On Shareowner Proposals: "Has the Coca-Cola Company Board of Directors ever voted for a shareowner's proposal, if so, I would like to see a copy? Are the votes against shareowners proposal always unanimous, if not, I would like to know which board members voted for some of the proposals. If board members are here who voted for some of the proposals, I am sure they would not be afraid to say so publicly.
Finally, on the Discrimination Suit, he wrote: "The settlement of the discrimination suit for approximately 192 million dollars was either an admission of guilt in the work place or just to get rid of the negative publicity. I don't recall receiving any kind of report on the status of discrimination after the settlement or after the committee was dissolved that Mrs. Herman served as Chair. The next thing I heard was Mrs. Herman's appointment to the Coca-Cola Board of Directors. I know discrimination is not a priority but shareholders should at least get some kind of report. Shareholders deserve more.
At this point, Isdell stated that he would move to the second item on the agenda. Ray called out his objection to limiting the discussion on such an important issue to only two shareholders. Following Ray's example, Ian Hoffman, a student from John Jay College/City University of New York jumped up and also objected to the number of speakers on such an important issue and said that he was a young shareholder and he wanted to speak. He began reading the following question but was judged out of order by Isdell and told numerous times to sit down. Ian refused to stop reading and was evicted from the meeting to the applause of the shareholders. Ray got up and sarcastically said to the shareholders: "Thank you for applauding this young man" and later, Ian said humorously: "I thought they were applauding me."
This is the question that Ian was trying to read:
"Before casting my vote for election of directors, I want to find out how board members plan to respond to statements made in the recently published book, 'Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola' by British author Mark Thomas. Chapter after chapter describes Coke's complicity in widespread criminal behavior and other misconduct relating to labor, human rights and environmental abuses.
"Information in this book is very troubling. For example, is it true that Coca-Cola offered to pay at least eight figures, that is at least ten million dollars or more to settle human rights abuse lawsuits that claim Coke 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.'
"At the same time according to Mark Thomas, Coca-Cola demanded that 'anyone working for Coca-Cola FEMSA and involved in the lawsuits had to leave their jobs ... and would be legally bound never to criticize Coca-Cola ever again.' This, according to the author, would mean the union SINALTRAINAL "would be finished and cease to exist in the Coca-Cola plants."
"If the information contained in this book covering corruption and misuse of power by Coca-Cola on a grand scale is true, what is the board going to do? Executives past and present have turned a blind eye and failed miserably to adequately address these serious issues, all to the detriment of this company."
In 2004, Ray Rogers found himself in the same situation. In that case, six security/police officers attacked Ray with a choke hold and wrestled him to the floor before throwing him out of the hotel. The Coca-Cola Co. policymakers realized that the incident received international coverage and hurt the company. They did not want a repeat, so Ian was handled much more gently and probably had an effect on Isdell's behavior for the remainder of the meeting putting a break on his intransigence with those of us testing the limits of the agenda.
After order was restored, our folks continued questioning Isdell, the company and the directors. Steve Carr, a supporter of the campaign, decided to comment on the agenda item that dealt with the rehiring of auditors Ernst & Young. Steve had contacted the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke wanting to help us prepare for the shareholders meeting.
"My question is about Ernst & Young's auditing of the board committee on human rights. Will we have an independent committee, independent investigation, independent review and publicity instead of this widespread cover-up. It's just like the foxes guarding the chicken house and I resent that.
"We need full disclosure. We need open information, an open company.
"And all you people who refuse to ask questions — you ought to be ashamed of yourselves and I'd appreciate an answer to the question.
"Does Ernst & Young and can Ernst & Young have purview in oversight and accountability on this very, very important subject?"
Camilo Romero, a member of SINALTRAINAL, spoke in support of the shareholders' resolution on executive compensation presented by the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters from San Antonio, Texas.
"My name is Camilo Romero. I am a member of SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian Food and Beverage Workers Union. And my point, particularly in regards to the proposal brought forth by the Benedictine Sisters, relates to the compensation and how matters of financial stability of the company are reflected, in fact, in day-to-day issues that have been brought up previously here in this meeting and at previous shareholder meetings.
"With respect to the fact that now paramilitary leaders in Colombia have been extradited from Colombia to the US and currently stand trial in federal prison many of whom have shared openly their knowledge directly and indirectly of Coca-Cola's involvement with the violence against workers and other communities in Colombia raise the question as to whether or not this idea of Opening Happiness is, in fact, one for consumer appeal alone or if it's an issue of Opening Happiness for executives that as we can tell from the pamphlets that have been shared are enjoying eight-figure salaries in bonuses and in compensation and yet when it engages in negotiations with our union, as we did 18 months ago right here in Atlanta, Coca-Cola says it did not have the capacity and, we believe, the interest in truly resolving this case for the workers in Colombia, communities in India and the communities it is supposed to serve as a global corporation. Thank you."
Lew Friedman, Killer Coke newsletter editor, spoke. He spoke about a shareholder resolution brought by the Brotherhood of Teamsters on Executive Compensation. As Lew began the following remarks, Isdell stopped him, stating that he didn't "judge this to be relevant." Lew stated that he was speaking about executive malfeasance — executive compensation and he let him proceed. It is probable that Ian's outburst gave us more space to speak, that Isdell didn't want another outburst.
"I would like to support the resolution in light of what I consider chair malfeasance," stated Lew Friedman.
"Although the ILO Mission report is damaging to Coke, it in no way touches upon or was meant to be an investigation of human rights abuse allegations involving Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia. Mr. Isdell stated at Coca-Cola's annual shareholders' meeting in April 2006: ' ... we have a document from the ILO, signed by the ILO, committing themselves to do exactly what you said ... We have a document. We have an agreement, and they are going to investigate past and prior practices...'
"In an April 2006 letter to the University of Michigan, Coke claimed: 'On March 2nd, the IUF announced that it had requested the ILO to investigate and evaluate past and present labor relations and workers' rights practices of the Coca-Cola bottling operations in Colombia...'
"The ILO report and the following statements prove that The Coca-Cola Company has not been truthful with the public, the media and their shareholders. Coke's claims have been contradicted by the IUF, the ILO and Coke representatives:
"First, the IUF never asked for such an investigation.
"The IUF's Ron Oswald stated: 'Well, he, Isdell, was wrong, and they know he was wrong ... Our proposal to the ILO was very clear: we did not ask them to do an investigation into criminal or murderous events ... There are still calls for Coke to agree to an independent investigation of those incidents and that's something we thought Coke should have agreed to many years ago.'
"Secondly, the ILO never agreed to conduct such an investigation.
"The ILO's Sally Paxton said: The ILO would at most be carrying out an 'assessment of current working conditions at enterprises in Colombia' and not an 'investigation' of The Coca-Cola Co. or past labor practices or human rights abuses by its bottlers.
"Finally, the Company never supported such an investigation.
"Coca-Cola's Dana Bolden after the report was released had the audacity to claim: 'The agreed-upon scope of the assessment [in Colombia] was always of current workplace practices.'
"And there are quotes by Ed Potter essentially saying the same thing."
Another supporter of the Campaign, Tim Schnabel, spoke on child labor in El Salvador:
"In 2004 Human Rights Watch exposed the fact that Coca-Cola's sugar supplier in El Salvador uses sugar cane harvested by children. Film footage taken in 2007 and aired as part of a nationally televised documentary in the UK confirmed that child labor is rampant on the plantations harvesting cane for Coca-Cola's sugar supplier.
"A book entitled 'Belching Out the Devil' by Mark Thomas, published last year in the U.K. and which is being published this year in the United States, makes it quite clear that Coca-Cola has done nothing unfortunately to seriously address and stop this child abuse.
"Unfortunately, five years after Human Rights Watch's expose on Coca-Cola and child labor, I must ask: Is Central Izalco still a supplier of sugar for any Coca-Cola products? Is child labor, sir, still being used to harvest sugar cane for Central Izalco or any other of Coke's sugar cane suppliers? And what does the board plan to do to make sure that no child labor is used in its supply chain to produce Coke products?"
Tim later sent us the following message:
"It was my privilege recently to attend the Coca-Cola Annual Meeting of Shareholders in support of your campaign where I raised questions about Coca-Cola and child labor. For me, the experience was surreal and I was struck by the stratospheric wealth of the chief executives and members of the board.
"Discovering the identity of one board member affected me personally and I speak of this now. In 1985, I was part of corporate America spending a lot of time at airports and in airplanes, most of those airplanes belonging to Delta Air Lines, Inc. I made a valuable suggestion to Delta and they awarded me a title of "Flying Colonel." It was an honor and with the honor came a number of privileges. One of them was lifetime membership to the Delta Crown Rooms anywhere in the world. If you travel a lot, this was truly a perk! Simply by passing through a door you could change environments totally - quiet, comfortable, complementary snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, and the list goes on.
"On the plaque awarded me were the signatures of the Chairman, Dave Garrett and President, Ron Allen. Mr. Allen currently sits on the board of Coca-Cola. Before finding that coveted board seat, he ascended to Chairman and CEO of Delta Air Lines.
"Before retiring from Delta, Mr. Allen revoked the lifetime Crown Room privileges of all Flying Colonels! I remember receiving a letter from he or one of his VP's filed with persiflage as to why this was being done, but included a special offer to purchase three years of Crown Room membership for the price of one! I was so moved by this gesture I used his letter as toilet paper on my next camping trip. I wanted to feel the visceral effects of where I felt the pain! How low... how damn low!!
"How many of the super wealthy on that board have broken promises to those below them on the food chain further adding to their score...I mean wealth? Sad...
"It doesn't bother me at all these days when I fly Air Tran!"
In addition to those whose statements are above, there were numerous speakers from Corporate Accountability International, Amit Srivastava from the India Resource Center and large Coke shareholder B. Wardlaw. Their statements can be heard on the webcast on Coca-Cola's site. Registration is necessary.
After the meeting, we met outside in the parking lot where the mobile billboard was visible to all. Shareholders took photos of the billboards, perhaps adding it to their Coke memorabilia collections. The truck then headed to Atlanta where it continuously circled the World of Coca-Cola. Numerous tourists stared, many park workers across the street watched as it went by and a Coke truck driver gawked at our billboard at a corner.
By all accounts, Isdell, Kent and Coca-Cola's Board of Directors could not have felt that this was a good day for The Coca-Cola Co.
This Saturday, April 22, our Campaign will participate as partners in the Brooklyn Food Conference in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York. Please check out the website of the conference to find out details.
Our director, Ray Rogers, will be a part of a panel "Challenging Big Food: How Food Transnationals Harm our Health and Environment and How to Fight Back, Workshop 1, Room 322 at 11:45 am.
"Food corporations now grow, process and sell most of the food eaten in the United States and their reach is increasing abroad. From McDonald's to Cargill to Monsanto, these transnational giants drive a set of abuses all along the food chain, including the epidemic of obesity and diet-related diseases, global warming and food safety crises. Come hear what advocacy groups are doing to challenge these abuses and learn how you can help take action.
- "Judy Grant, director, Value [the] Meal Campaign, Corporate Accountability Int'l
- "Ria Knapp, campaign coordinator, Climate Counts
- "Ray Rogers, founder, Corporate Campaign, Inc. and Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
The conference is free and will begin at 9 am with registration and a parade around the neighborhood with a 25-piece marching band. Adults will have workshops at John Jay High School on 7th Avenue and 5th Street. Events for children will be at PS 321 on 7th Avenue and 1st Street.
There is a Facebook site for Coca-Cola with more than 3.4 million fans. They contend that the company has nothing to do with it. I joined it and have been leaving Killer Coke messages - links, videos, photos — on it each day, but my posts seem to disappear rather quickly. I thought it would be a great idea for all of us with Facebook accounts to join this group and leave Killer Coke links, photos, videos and messages.
To find it, simply type "Coca-Cola" in the search window in the upper right and join the Coca-Cola group that has more than 3.4 million fans. Most messages that are on the site are things such as "I love Coke" "Coke forever" "I can't live without a Coke every day" "Coke is the only pop for me" "The best drink since 1886" "Coke is the best"
Let's band together and educate these Coke Lovers!!!!
Donate and wear a "Ban Killer Coke: Unthinkable! Undrinkable!" tee shirt! The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke now has both men's and women's tee shirts for a donation to the campaign. These union-made tee shirts are 100% cotton, pre-shrunk and 100% sweatshop-free from No Sweat Apparel.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke is based on the efforts of thousands of volunteers worldwide. Above all, it's a movement of we's and not I's and we need all the help we can get if justice is to prevail.