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Campaign to Stop Killer Coke vs. The Coca-Cola Co.

An Opt-Ed Article by Ray Rogers, Director, Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
info@KillerCoke.org, (718) 852-2808

Below is an op-ed article explaining the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke and responding to Coca-Cola's misinformation about the issues involved. Feel free to publish or reprint it or use it as background for your own purposes.

For nearly four years, the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke (www.killercoke.org) has focused attention on The Coca-Cola Company's gross human rights abuses at its bottling plants in Colombia while educating the public about Coke's unethical and criminal behavior worldwide.

The International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO, filed lawsuits in 2001 and 2006 on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, the primary union representing Coke workers in Colombia; several of its members, and survivors of Isidro Gil and Adolfo de Jesus Munera, two of the union's murdered officers. The lawsuits charged that Coca-Cola bottlers "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence, and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."

SINALTRAINAL Vice President Juan Carlos Galvis has said, "If we lose the fight against Coca-Cola, we will first lose our union, next our jobs and then our lives."

The Colombian government, multinational corporations like Coca-Cola and paramilitary death squads all have something in common: They are determined to challenge the very existence of social movements, particularly those concerned with labor and human rights issues, that expose their brutality or jeopardize their accumulation of power and profits.

American University Professor Lesley Gill, who has visited Colombia several times, has written: "Murdered unionists are not the product of indiscriminate, chaotic violence...They are the victims of a calculated and selective strategy carried out by sectors of the state, allied paramilitaries, and some employers to weaken and eliminate trade unions."

New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate led a fact-finding delegation to Colombia in 2004 that concluded: "Coca-Cola is complicit in human rights abuses of its workers." One member of the delegation commented, "We heard one story after another of torture and injustice. The sheer number of these testimonials was overwhelming."

Coca-Cola falsely claims that more than 30 percent of the 8,000 workers in the Coca-Cola system in Colombia are union members. In fact, the vast majority of Colombian Coke workers are considered "flexible" workers and have no union representation. Often mired in poverty and employed through various subcontracting schemes, they receive low pay, meager benefits (if any) and have no job security. Due to Coke's lobbying in Colombia and the campaign of terror directed at union leaders, only about four percent of Coke's workers belong to unions.

Coke's claims that it was exonerated of human rights abuse allegations by two judicial inquiries in Colombia and two "independent" investigations in the U.S. (by one of Coke's own law firms, White & Case, and by the discredited Cal-Safety Compliance Corporation, which Coke hired), have no credibility whatsoever.

Coke's claim that the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) is doing an "independent" investigation in Colombia is ridiculous on its face because of the Company's extensive personnel and financial links with the ILO and the UN. The ILO's former spokesperson has denied that it is investigating any of the Company's past conduct.

It became clear in 2005 that Coke would never agree to facilitate a truly independent investigation when it demanded that plaintiffs' lawyers agree in advance that any evidence of the company's complicity in human rights abuses would be inadmissible in court.

Coke boasts it was dismissed from the human rights abuse lawsuits, but doesn't tell you that the decisions had nothing to do with the merits of the cases, but instead dealt with procedural and jurisdictional questions. Lawyers for SINALTRAINAL have appealed and seek jury trials.

In India, one of Coke's largest plants has been shut down and thousands continue to protest the company's overexploitation and pollution of scarce water resources and high levels of pesticides in its drinks. Meanwhile, Coke points with pride to its receipt of the "prestigious Golden Peacock Environment Management Award" from the World Environment Foundation (WEF) and Institute of Directors (IOD), neglecting to disclose that Coca-Cola funds the WEF and the head of Coca-Cola India sits on IOD's executive council.

Under former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who was president of Coca-Cola in Mexico prior to his election, Coke negotiated 27 water concessions from the government, "threatening the country's water supply and undercutting indigenous control of natural resources," according to Beverly Bell (In These Times, 10/6/06). She added: "Each Mexican consumes an average of 483 eight-ounce glasses of Coke per year in a country where more than 12 million citizens do not have access to potable water." Dr. Ann Lopez, who teaches environmental science at San Jose City College, has stated, "The people of west central Mexico are easy corporate prey for predator Coke...pushing their addictive products on peasant populations in which one in ten may have undiagnosed diabetes."

Ignoring genocide in Darfur and paying fines for violating U.S. sanctions, Coca-Cola continues to operate in the Sudan, churning out 100,000 bottles of Coke, Sprite and Fanta per hour (The New York Times, 10/24/06). The fines were imposed after Coke took advantage of a loophole in the sanctions that exempted "food and medicine," categories that many of Coke's sugar-laden and chemical-crammed beverages hardly fit into.

Because Coca-Cola continues to exploit and inflict great hardship upon people and communities throughout the world, students, faculty and administrators are standing up for human rights and the environment and opposing Coca-Cola. Small colleges such as Union Theological Seminary, Carleton College and San Jose City College and large universities such as Rutgers, DePaul and New York University are among the 33 campuses that have removed Coke products. And the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) last summer dropped Coca-Cola from its CREF Social Choice Account, the world's largest socially-screened fund and divested 1.25 million shares because its investment advisors no longer consider Coca-Cola socially responsible.

Coke wants to stamp its brand on every school and make young people a captive market for its products. But no educational institution that takes pride in its reputation as a place where ethics matters should lend its good name to Coca-Cola nor serve as a vehicle for its sales and advertising. Whenever consumers see Coca-Cola beverages or ads, they should think about corporate misconduct that can only be regarded as so "Unthinkable" that the products, in turn, become "Undrinkable."

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.