Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Update May 6, 2010
Coke continues its cover-up
- Coke Annual Meeting Cover-up: Questions that need real answers
- Hundreds turn out for screening of 'The Coca-Cola Case' at NYU
- Coke's latest attempt to impede real discussion of the issues
- New Videos from Belgium
- From the U.S. to India, Coke destroys water
- Labor Notes Conference brings more support for Campaign
Although our issues dominated Coke's annual meeting on April 21, we never really got answers to our questions. CEO/Chair Muhtar Kent denied, denied and denied again any wrongdoing on the part of the company. (The entire webcast can be heard by clicking here and registering.) Hopefully, serious investigative journalists working for publications seeking the truth will try to get real answers.
The following are questions that were raised at the meeting as well as some that were never raised due to time limitations:
Ray Rogers's Statement at 46:18 of the webcast:
"Before casting votes for directors, I must ask: 'Will the Board, and you Mr. Kent, continue the irresponsible policies of the Daft and Isdell administrations by flagrantly violating the company's stated codes of conduct relating to human rights and environmental justice.'
"The Coca-Cola System, including The Coca-Cola Co., many of its bottlers and subsidiaries like The Coca-Cola Export Corp., shamelessly operate like a criminal syndicate with impunity. Human rights abuses uncovered in China, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Mexico and elsewhere can not be dealt with simply as public relations problems. They are real and must be addressed adequately.
"Coke's sinful world is being exposed like never before. Recently published books and a new blockbuster by Michael Blanding due out later this year highlight the seemingly out-of-control immoral and corrupt practices running rampant in The Coca-Cola System.
"Documentaries, including 'The Coca-Cola Case,' produced by the National Film Board of Canada and Argus Films is making its way into theaters, homes, classrooms, conferences and conventions worldwide, despite the veiled threats, bullying and intimidation tactics by Coke's lawyers in unsuccessful efforts to censor the film.
"In Mexico, there is another real-life drama stirring also called 'The Coca-Cola Case.' It involves a former 16 year Coca-Cola employee and marketing executive turned whistleblower whom the company apparently pressured to act illegally to destroy all competition at the 700,000 mom and pop stores in Mexico.
"But even worse, this case highlights how Coca-Cola and The Coca-Cola Export Corp. conspired to illegally cheat Mexican workers out of hundreds of millions of dollars in pay and profit sharing and the Mexican government out of millions in tax revenues.
"Institutional investors had better wake up otherwise their investments could be jeopardized when Coke faces potential judgments costing billions because of poor Board oversight and malfeasance.
"So I ask, will the Board work to make sure The Coca-Cola System reigns in its greed, cleans up its act, compensates its victims of the past and makes sure other workers and communities are not victimized in the future?
"Otherwise Coca-Cola: American Icon will increasingly be branded, Killer Coke: American Convict! "
Ian Hoffmann Statement at 1:05.25 of the webcast:
Question Re: Information Contained
in the Book "Belching Out the Devil"
and the New Documentary, 'The Coca-Cola Case'
"Before casting my vote for election of directors, I want to find out how board members plan to respond to statements made in 'Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola' by British author Mark Thomas, published last year. 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 end the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke and to settle the human rights abuse lawsuits claiming that Coke bottlers in Colombia are involved in the systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders.
"At the same time according to Mark Thomas's book and the documentary, "The Coca-Cola Case" now playing to packed audiences around the world, 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 the film and the 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 refused to address these serious issues and the costs to the company are growing. "
Lew Friedman Statement at 1:07:21 of the webcast:
Question re: Union Busting Schemes in Colombia and the U.S. Turning Employees into Non-Employees
"Before I cast my vote for auditors, I want to know: Has there been an analysis of the long-term effects of outsourcing on System stability? We all know about strikes in Ireland and South Africa where this is an issue. And it's an issue in the United States and Colombia. Is Coca-Cola going to continue in its efforts to bust unions by outsourcing, also referred to as sub-contracting, a scheme to turn employees into non-employees?
"The vast majority of Coke workers in Colombia who wear Coke uniforms, drive Coke trucks, work in Coke plants and help make huge profits for Coke are subcontracted workers. These workers receive minimal pay, meager, if any, benefits, are fired if they try to join a union and have no job security.
"In fact, in April 2007, 16 Coke subcontracted workers were fired for joining SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian food workers union. This was a warning to all outsourced workers in the Coca-Cola System: You have no rights! Do not join a union!
"In that new film that's been mentioned, 'The Coca-Cola Case,' which Coca-Cola's lawyers tried to censor, two Colombian truck drivers wearing Coca-Cola uniforms are interviewed:
"They state: 'If we are robbed of $100 or $200, it comes out of our pocket; we have to pay for insurance; our uniforms; Coca-Cola rents us the truck-we have to pay for it every day; And also for any lost or broken bottles and crates;'
"They were asked: 'What does the company provide?'
" 'Zip! Zilch! Nothing at all!...The worker is responsible for everything.'
" 'Are you unionized?'
" 'No. You can't join the union or you'll be fired. They don't want the union to grow.'
" 'How much did you make today and how many hours did you work?'
" 'We started at 6 this morning until 9 pm.'
" 'How much did you make?'
" '15 dollars'
"That's 15 dollars for 15 hours.
"Your efforts to be as union-free as possible and to undermine union organizing at your bottling facilities right here in the U.S. — in Georgia — were addressed in a book, "What Coca-Cola Did to Stop the Union from Coming In," by former Coke worker, Jeffrey Wright. Today, Teamster demonstrators outside are protesting Coke's efforts to prevent union organizing in the U.S.
Ian Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Lew Friedman
"Is the Board going to continue obvious company policy to oppose unionizing and to suppress workers from bettering their working conditions?"
Strong statements challenging Coke were also made by Amit Srivastava (at 57:01 of the webcast), Diane Mathowitz (at 1:46:22), John Stewart (at 2:02:34) and Steve Carr (at 2:21:48).
Other questions that were prepared and considered important, but were not addressed at the meeting included the following:
Question Re: Child Labor
"Before I cast my vote for election of directors, I want to know if the board and particularly Herbert Allen, Barry Diller, Donald Keough, James Williams and you, Mr. Kent, who beneficially and collectively own shares worth billions of dollars, are going to allow The Coca-Cola Company to continue to benefit from what is described as one of the most hazardous, cruel and worst forms of child labor.
"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 United States, makes it quite clear Coca-Cola has done nothing 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 still being used to harvest sugar cane for Central Izalco or any other of Coke's sugar 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?
"I must ask this question as it pertains to Colombia as well. Lawsuits alleging human rights abuses against labor leaders by Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia are horrific, but to make matters worse, a 2008 report by the UN's International Labor Organization quoted a Coke manager in Cali saying that Coke's suppliers of raw materials such as sugar should not use child labor but added, Coke 'did not yet exercise oversight of the issue.'
"Is this true? And if not, why would a Coke manager make such a statement?"
Lawsuit Against Coke in Guatemala
"In February, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs against The Coca-Cola Co. and Coke processing and bottling plants in Guatemala.
"What will be the policy of the directors, including you Mr. Kent, to deal with this case? Will you once again follow the morally bankrupt leadership of former CEO Isdell and use public relations by promoting phony investigations like those done by one of your law firms, White & Case, or an outfit like the discredited Cal Safety Compliance Corporation.
"Of course, the biggest lie was the one perpetrated by Isdell when he stated that the ILO would be investigating human rights abuses in Colombia. The documentary described by The Boston Herald as 'the explosive new film,' 'The Coca-Cola Case' made it abundantly clear that such an investigation never took place, nor did the ILO ever agree to such an investigation.
"The case in Guatemala involves charges of murder, rape and torture. The plaintiffs include union leaders and family members. What is especially troubling about this case is that it presents evidence of Coca-Cola's direct involvement in trying to suppress the facts.
"Coca-Cola used the leverage of security for union leader Jose Palacios and his wife and children, who were threatened with death on numerous occasions, to try to get him to waive his employment rights and resign from his union.
"Union leader, Jose Alberto Vicente Chavez, was subjected to violence and threats, his son was murdered and his daughter was gang-raped as part of a campaign of violence directed at him.
"The plaintiffs' attorney, Terry Collingsworth, stated publicly: 'With this case, we finally have the evidence to get to a jury and let them decide if Coca-Cola is produced with the blood of union leaders and their family members. This case will expose the fraud of Coca-Cola's public relations campaign once and for all.' "
You can also see on the webcast speakers from the India Resource Center, Corporate Accountability International (CAI), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 728 and others asking questions and making statements about Coke's abuses.
The NYU Coalition to Keep Coca-Cola Off Campus organized a screening of "The Coca-Cola Case." Some 400 people braved the chilly, rainy night to see the film at New York University.
A broad coalition composed of Law Students for Economic Justice, NYU National Lawyers Guild, Latino Law Students Association, NYU Oxfam, Coalition for Legal Recruiting, Students Creating Radical Change, Earth Matters, Latinos Unidos Con Honor y Armisad, Law Students for Human Rights and Union of Clerical, Administrative, and Technical Staff at NYU, Local 3882, AFT, have committed to get Coke kicked off campus again and to hold Coca-Cola Company director and NYU trustee Barry Diller accountable.
Many of the students and others signed up to help the Campaign at NYU. Plans are in progress to make Stop Killer Coke a highly-visible issue on campus when the students return for the Fall semester.
NACLA, "An Anti-Coke Campaign Effervesces at NYU," By Jason Farbman, April 22, 2010
"On April 26, the New York University Coalition to Keep Coca-Cola Off Campus will launch its new campaign to ban all Coke's products from the campus. The campaign seeks to highlight Coca-Cola's refusal to allow an independent investigation into the killing of eight members of SINALTRAINAL, the union that represents workers at Coke's bottling plants in Colombia...
"...After years of organizing, students eventually won for a first time in 2005, and NYU became the 12th U.S. campus to ban Coke. By February 2009 the list had grown to 50. At NYU, however, the university Senate (where only 22 of 80 seats are held by students) ignored two separate student votes, and the ban was removed. In a sharp letter denouncing the decision, Jeff Olshansky, the co-chair of NYU Law Students for Economic Justice and one of the principal organizers working to renew the Coke ban wrote, 'NYU made a promise to these Colombian workers and they broke that promise...NYU decided to put their financial relationship with Coke above human rights.' "
Students and others who would like to become involved in the Campaign at NYU can contact the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke at email@example.com at (718) 852-2808.
Present to answer the many questions raised about the film and the campaign were filmmaker German Gutierrez, NYU law school student and SINALTRAINAL member Camilo Romero and other students and Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Director Ray Rogers.
WestEnder.com, "The Coca-Cola Case," By Andrew Weichel, Week of April 29
Read the article
THE COCA-COLA CASE
Directed by Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez
"Coca-Cola made headlines earlier this year when the corporation tried to shut down screenings of this, directors Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez's documentary — and it's not hard to see why. The film follows a pair of U.S. lawyers attempting to tie the soft-drink giant to the kidnapping, murder, and torture of union leaders and their families in South America, and there will no doubt be viewers who walk away pledging never to burn their tongues on Coke's product again.
"Much of The Coca-Cola Case takes place in Colombia, a country attorney Daniel Kovalik calls the "trade union murder capital of the world, by far." He claims 4,000 assassinations of union members have been carried out in that country in the past 24 years, including eight at Coke's franchise bottling plant. Kovalik and colleague Terry Collingsworth have spent almost 10 years trying to hold the company's U.S. headquarters accountable, and the documentary's draw comes from the lingering, far-fetched possibility they could actually succeed.
"This is serious subject matter, and the film is appropriately sombre in tone, with none of the amusing musical montages or attention-grabbing publicity stunts of a Michael Moore doc. Garcia and Gutierrez keep behind the lens, letting Kovalik, Collingsworth, "Stop Killer Coke" campaign leader Ray Rogers, and a handful of union and non-union Coke workers in Colombia and Guatemala speak for themselves.
"Since Coca-Cola representatives declined to appear, the company is defended by stock footage of CEO Neville Isdell at a shareholders' meeting, and by students at a pro-free-market demonstration at the University of Chicago, where earnest participants bear signs reading "Fuck Human Rights." It's hardly balanced, but justice-thirsty movie patrons will be too incensed to mind."
Straight.com, "The Coca-Cola Case," By Mark Harris, April 29, 2010
"The allegations against Coca-Cola corporation reported by Canadian documentarists German Gutierrez and Carmen Garcia are certainly extensive: links to the murderers of trade unionists in Colombia and Guatemala; drying up village wells in India; collaborating with genocidal maniacs in Sudan. Two U.S. courts have dismissed these allegations, but if this film doesn't make you join the Pepsi Generation, nothing will."
Coca-Cola wrote to students at Washington State University
"As we discussed in previous emails, we will not agree to a debate particularly with a professional activist, like Ray Rogers. We will answer your students' questions via a conference call provided it is moderated by an administrator from the school and involves only the students. We have in the past participated in such debates with activists like Ray Rogers and they served no positive purpose. These "debates" turned into dramatic shouting sessions by the activist groups, regardless of the school's attempts to keep discussion measured and civilized. [This statement is totally untrue - yet another excuse to avoid serious debate with the Campaign.] Therefore, we can set up a conference call at the date/time you suggest below or we can answer questions via email. I would also like to know the topic of the discussion so we can prepare accordingly."
In the new documentary, "The Coca-Cola Case," it became clear that Coca-Cola representatives would go to any extreme to avoid answering substantive questions. A student was interviewed shortly after Coke reps met with students at the University of Chicago:
"there are these two like 35 year old white women standing and saying that we don't want to lecture to you guys. We just want you to let us know what Coca-Cola should be doing, and how, you know, we can be a better company. You know, we really care. We have someone here from the local Coca Cola chapter, who is going to talk about scholarships. And they would just go on and on and on, not really answer the questions, say that the only reason that there's any sort of political controversy is because that guy, Ray, what's his face? Ray Rogers. He is making it up for his own political ends. And then the students responded. But local organizers in India, why would they make up that their drinking water is gone? Like, it was really good and I feel like on the whole everyone just felt like they were so patronizing and so dismissive. Really kind of insulting, how they just kept saying that 'Us folks', 'Down home'. I don't know. I thought it was really interesting."
The filmmaker, German Gutierrez, asks to stay to film Coke's presentation but is told by a student:
"No I'm sorry you can't stay. Coca-Cola requested that they not be filmed because they think it requires permission, so we're honoring their request."
The Daily Evergreen (Washington State University), "Students protest Coca-Cola contract: Some students raise concerns about human rights as WSU considers Coke contract renewal," By Rachel Webber, April 30, 2010
" 'I have sent Coke three e-mails requesting a meeting,' he said. 'We sent some back and forth in the beginning of the semester. They are a private company, and they had some demands on how the meeting was supposed to be structured.' [Grad student Michael] Schwartz says Coke refused to meet with students because the students wanted to include a representative from Killer Coke, an anti-Coke activist group."
The Courier Leader, "Lawsuit charges Paw Paw Coca-Cola plant with well water contamination," By Deborah Klinger, May 3, 2010
" The New York law firm Weitz and Luxenberg, P.C., announced on Tuesday, April 27 that the firm had filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola for damages due to ground water contamination at its Paw Paw plant. The law firm alleges that the Paw Paw Coca-Cola plant's practice of spraying juice waste onto their fields located behind their facility led to heavy metals leeching into the water supply. These heavy metals, which include arsenic, iron and manganese, have been linked to cancer."
Wood8tv, "Paw Paw suit filed against Coca-Cola: Erin Brockovich involved in contamination case," April 27, 2010
"The firm Weitz & Luxenberg announced the lawsuit, which was filed in Van Buren County, Tuesday. It charges Coca-Cola with contaminating Paw Paw's drinking water with chemical pollutants that have migrated onto plaintiff's properties from the company's Minute Maid facility on Red Arrow Highway.
"Coca-Cola has sprayed waste water onto the soil for more than 30 years, according to the seven-county complaint. That pollution has affected the nearby groundwater, which shows detectable levels of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, iron and manganese. People in the community also have also reported health issues, including gastrointestinal, kidney and central nervous system disorders."
The Tribune, "Opposition, NGOs, farmers allege exploitation of water resources: Coca Cola's Guntur plant runs into trouble," May 2, 2010
"A Coca Cola plant in Guntur district of AndhraPradesh has incurred the wrath of opposition parties, NGOs and farmers for "exploiting local water resources and causing pollution". Bowing to mounting pressure from the Opposition and farmers' bodies, the state government has reversed its earlier order of allocating 21.50 lakh litres of water per day for the factory located near Atmakur village in the coastal district of Guntur."
express buzz, "A K Antony urged to help set up tribunal," By Express News Service, April 25, 2010
"...they have requested to set up a tribunal to assess each individual case, as recommended by the high-power multidisciplinary committee. 'The politics of Plachimada issue is beyond party politics, with both the LDF and the UDF supporting the victims of corporate avarice - it is the politics of how our scarce natural resources should be managed for the benefit of all,' said the appeal.
"The Committee also found that the Cola company had violated a number of laws including Water Act, 1974, Environment Protection Act, 1986, the Factories Act 1948, Hazardous Waste Rules, 1989, SC-ST Act 1989, Land Utilisation order 1967 and the Kerala Ground Water Act among others."
Ray Rogers, Ian Hoffmann and Lew Friedman from the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke attended the Labor Notes Conference in Dearborn, Michigan, where progressive union leaders and labor activists from around the world came together. About 1,200 unionists attended the conference.
Our Campaign was able to distribute hundreds of Stop Killer Coke flyers, showed the new documentary, "The Coca-Cola Case" to a jam-packed room and Director Ray Rogers participated in a workshop about Coca-Cola's abuses in Colombia, China and elsewhere. Our participation in the conference was successful on all counts. Many participants who spoke with us, indicated that they would work with us to make sure that their unions would become Coke-free. Of the more than 1,200 participants in the conference, there were unionists from all over the U.S. as well as participants from South America, North America, Asia and Europe
When we arrived at the conference, many of the unionists were forming up to join restaurant workers down the street in front of Andiamo, a fine dining chain in Metro Detroit. The raucous march and street theatrics were the latest action in a months-long campaign organized by Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan over Andiamo's wage theft violations, racial and sexual discrimination, and retaliatory firings.
Other videos from the demonstration: