Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Update
March 25, 2006
Dear Leaders of the National Union of Students:
We've had a good response to our recent newsletter highlighting the upcoming NUS vote on Coca-Cola and we were asked to respond further to three questions and concerns that members of the board have:
1. It has been said that a ban of Coke products at NUS facilities will hurt Coke workers in Colombia.
Supporting a ban of Coke products at all NUS facilities will not hurt but help Coke workers in Colombia and workers and communities worldwide. The loss of contracts and the damage to Coke's brand name are the key factors that have gotten the Company's attention at the highest executive levels.
Years of so-called "constructive engagement" has not stopped Coke's attacks on workers, but has only maintained the status quo and allowed conditions to worsen, not only in Colombia, but for workers and communities worldwide, including those in El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey. One only has to read War on Want's (one of NUS's affiliates) report released on Monday, March 20th, to see that Coca-Cola continues widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses.
The Coca-Cola Co. and its biggest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), which services the UK market are scared to death that NUS will kick them out just like many of the largest universities in the U.S. and Ireland have done. And remember, Gary Fayard, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, The Coca-Cola Co., and Irial Finan, Executive Vice President and President of Bottling Investments of The Coca-Cola Co., serve on the boards of directors of both CCE and Coca-Cola FEMSA, which is Colombia's largest bottler and a defendant in the lawsuit charging Coke's bottlers in Colombia with the systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders. When NUS kicks Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Enterprises off the campuses, it also kicks top policymakers of Colombia's largest bottler, Coca-Cola FEMSA, off the campuses.
Coca-Cola has been a leader in eliminating good union jobs for workers in Colombia for more than a decade. In 1993, SINALTRAINAL represented about 1,400 to 1,500 members in the Coke plants in Colombia. SINALTRAINAL now represents between 300 and 400 Coke workers because of efforts including human rights abuses to crush the union. Another reason for the drop in membership is because Coke and other multinationals use their political clout in Colombia to pass laws that encourage subcontracting and temporary working. Because of this, about 95% of workers in the Coca-Cola System (the network of all workers producing and distributing Coca-Cola products) are considered flexible, subcontracted workers who receive low pay, meager, if any benefits, have no job security and can't join the union. Many of these workers are mired in poverty.
SINALTRAINAL released a statement on 18th May 2005: "We commemorate the 10th anniversary of a strike on the North Coast in which, working with the complicity of the Ministry of Labour, the employer sacked twelve thousand employed workers. Now they are replaced by workers in various forms of sub-contracted slavery, to which 95% of the workforce is subject. The working conditions are inhuman, having to complete working days longer than 12 hours, without social security and on marginal wages that are not enough for a family."
Even now, Coca-Cola has been taking out full-page newspaper ads in colleges and universities across the United States claiming that more than 30% of its employees in Colombia belong to unions. What Coke isn't saying is that most of the workers in the Coca-Cola System in Colombia are not considered employees of the company.
2. It has been said that unions in Colombia and elsewhere do not support colleges and universities banning Coke products.
In Colombia, the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia (CUT — the TUC of Colombia), recently issued a public statement from their acting President, reaffirming their commitment and their backing of SINALTRAINAL's struggle.
In addition, CUT Vice President Fabio Arias said: "Coca-Cola has been a persistent violator of trade unionists' rights and for this reason various universities in the United States have taken measures to protest against their conduct...The CUT supports the University of Michigan, in the United States, in discontinuing the sale of Coca-Cola within their campus, as a result of accusations of violating human rights and trade union rights in Colombia.
Some of the largest unions in the world, within and outside the IUF (International Union of Food Workers based in Switzerland), support the student movement to ban Coke products from the campuses. For example, UNISON, the largest union in the UK and the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the world's largest Coca-Cola union, which represents more than 18,000 Coca-Cola workers, supports the students' campaign to pressure Coke. Europe's Food Production Daily reported on Feb. 9, 2006: "Coca-Cola is now facing a labour relations problem in the US, after the Teamsters Union joined protesters calling for boycotts against the company over alleged human rights violations in Colombia."
The IUF website claims the labor federation represents 12 million workers worldwide. Many of their largest affiliates are fully supportive of the campaign against Killer Coke and student actions that have led to more than two dozen colleges and universities kicking Coke off their campuses. These include the Service Employees International Union, which represents 1.8 million workers; UNITE-HERE, which represents 850 thousand workers, and the United Steelworkers, which represents 1.2 million workers.
Unions that represent Coca-Cola workers in the UK — Amicus, the Transport and General Workers Union and the GMB — altogether represent about 2,100 Coca-Cola workers out of a total membership of about 2.6 million workers. If these unions are concerned that Coca-Cola would lay off some of their members due to kicking Coke off campuses, it seems that the best response by those unions would be to inform Coca-Cola's Chief Executive Officer that they are prepared to ask each of their 2.6 million members to contribute monthly to a solidarity fund. That fund, in the spirit of international labour solidarity, would be used to compensate those laid-off workers. Coke would also be informed that any sacked workers will be hired to work full-time to pressure Coke to end their labour and human rights abuses, to organize other Coke workers and to fight for just contracts for their own members in the UK. This would serve as a great example of international labour solidarity in the glo bal economy for unions all over the world to emulate.
3. If we get rid of Coke, who will provide beverages and the source of funding for student activities that come from the sale of those beverages?
NUS Services Limited's Sound sourcing guide for suppliers of NUS Services includes an excellent code of conduct for suppliers regarding labour, human rights and environmental policies. Although Coca-Cola may claim adherence to these principles, its practices worldwide prove otherwise. Thus, NUS's student unions should not be a captive market for Coke's products.
Companies such as Ben Shaws have already been replacing Coke at various student unions. Many other companies, given a real opportunity to compete with Coke, could provide excellent products and a good source of revenue to the student unions.
The academic community in the UK, students, faculty and others, could develop a marketing and business plan to replace Coke with beverages produced by responsible companies which would also provide as good or a better stream of revenues into student unions.
Terry Collingsworth, the Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Fund and lead counsel in the Alien Tort Claims lawsuit, charging Coca-Cola and its bottlers with crimes against humanity; Camilo Romero, a leader in United Students Against Sweatshops; Amit Srivastava, Coordinator of the India Resource Center, and I will be available to answer questions at the NUS conference, March 28 to 30. We all hope to have the opportunity to interact with each of you.
Peace & Justice,
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.