Wednesday, July 11, 2007
For immediate release
For more information, contact:
Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
Cooper Station, P.O. Box 1002
New York, NY 10276-1002
Pat Clark or Ray Rogers — (718) 852-2808
The University of Michigan, New York University and several other institutions in the U.S., Canada and Europe have recently severed relationships with The Coca-Cola Company because Coca-Cola would not agree to an independent third party investigation of allegations of human rights, labor and environmental abuses by its bottlers in Colombia and India.
On April 10, Coke informed Tim Slottow, Executive Vice President and CFO of the University of Michigan, that independent investigations would take place in Colombia and India. According to Coca-Cola, the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) has agreed to do an "investigation and evaluation" in Colombia and
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) was developing an "impartial independent third party assessment of water resource management practices at Coca-Cola facilities in India..."
The University of Michigan, apparently without even checking Coke's claims, immediately issued a statement that said it would resume purchases of Coca-Cola products that was suspended in January. The decision was made by Mr. Slottowwithout any consultation with students or the University's Dispute Review Board (DRB). "Mr. Slottow has done a real disservice to students and the entire University of Michigan community, as well as to workers and communities in Colombia and India," said Ray Rogers, director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. "He and his advisors have foolishly failed to check out Coke's claims or the close relationships that already exist between Coke and its so-called 'third party investigators'."
ILO, Coca-Cola and Colombia
First, regarding the Colombia situation: In a letter to Mr. Slottow on April 10, Coca-Cola North America President Donald Knauss wrote: "On March 2nd, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) announced that it requested the International Labor Organization (ILO) to investigate and evaluate past and present labor relations and workers' rights practices of the Coca-Cola bottling operations in Colombia..."
Since the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke began in 2003, the IUF has opposed efforts by students on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, the non-IUF union representing most unionized Coke workers in Colombia, to ban Coke products from their campuses and student unions. The only union in Colombia affiliated with the IUF that represents Coke workers is SICO, a company union with 40 to 50 Coke workers. SICO replaced SINALTRAINAL after SINALTRAINAL's union officer Isidro Gil was assassinated by paramilitaries inside the Carepa Coca-Cola bottling plant and his local union was crushed. (See "Why Does the IUF Attack SINALTRAINAL?")
In the April 10 letter, Mr. Knauss also wrote: "Questions concerning the ILO investigation and evaluation should be directed to Ms. Sally Paxton, Executive Director, Social Dialogue." In an April 12 phone conversation with Ray Rogers, Ms. Paxton contradicted at least two crucial points in Mr. Knauss's letter. First, she emphasized that the ILO would only do an "assessment of current working conditions," not of past labor relations practices. Second, she insisted that the ILO was not going to conduct "an investigation," adding that there won't even be an assessment of the parent company Coca-Cola, only an "assessment" of the enterprises in Colombia.
When asked who would fund the "assessment," Ms. Paxton responded, "The money will come from outside donors or the regular budget. That has not yet been decided." Ms. Paxton said that the model developed for Better Factories Cambodia, a project of the ILO, would be used in the Colombia "assessment." According to the ILO website, "Better Factories Cambodia aims to improve working conditions in Cambodia's export garment factories. It combines independent monitoring with finding solutions, through suggestions to management, training, advice and information." The ILO website adds that the outside donors for the Cambodian project included the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, whose council is entirely composed of executives from the Cambodian garment industry. Does this mean that the ILO will seek or accept funding from the American Beverage Assn., whose board includes Donald Knauss himself and other Coke executives?
The ILO has a tripartite structure, consisting of 28 representatives of governments, 14 representatives of employers and 14 representatives of labor. Labor observers and advocates who are familiar with the ILO say that the organization is heavily skewed against workers, since most government representatives align themselves with the employer representatives. Imagine if this multinational body was simply a U.S. body. What chance would workers have to advance any part of their agenda? Because of the stranglehold over the Congress that corporate lobbyists enjoy, U.S. labor can't even get legislation enacted to protect workers' basic rights.
Why is Coca-Cola so comfortable with Ms. Paxton overseeing this so-called "investigation and evaluation"? "Ms. Paxton was a partner in private practice at Fulbright and Jaworski, concentrating in civil litigation at both the trial and appellate levels in a variety of subjects, including labor and employment law," according to her biography on the ILO's site. The Fulbright & Jaworski website states that the firm "represents companies in lawsuits involving disputes under collective bargaining agreements" and "defends employers before the National Labor Relations Board" — not quite the resume of an impartial juror or an unbiased administrator. The law firm has represented ExxonMobil, Duke Energy, Merck & Co and other companies with questionable records on matters involving ethics, exploitation and/or environmental concerns.
Coke's Edward Potter and the ILO
Edward E. Potter, Coca-Cola's Director of Global Labor Relations and Workplace Accountability, serves on the Applications of Conventions Committee within the International Labor Organization. He is currently the head spokesperson for the entire Employers' Group, a powerful position within the ILO structure to promote the interests of big business and thus the interests of Coca-Cola. In addition, Potter leads the U.S. employer delegation to the ILO's annual conference that is coordinated through the United States Council for International Business, which is on the ILO's governing body.
Over the past year, Potter has demanded that any evidence uncovered by an investigation of Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers that indicated Coke committed labor or human rights abuses could not be used in the lawsuit filed by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, several of its members and the survivors of Isidro Gil, one of its murdered officers. ILRF Executive Director Terry Collingsworth responded to Mr. Potter's demand in a November 14 letter: "We cannot prejudice our clients by agreeing to bury evidence that would support their claims," he said.
During the process of seeking an independent investigation of Coke's practices, students asserted: "The investigation in Colombia must include both CURRENT and PAST issues: issues relating to the present lawsuit MAY NOT BE EXCLUDED from the investigation — as these are some of the most egregious violations of our codes and also some of the most contentious issues in this case. This includes issues such as the murders, torture and kidnapping of union workers." Mr. Potter insisted that there be no investigation of past abuses.
The proposed ILO assessment of current conditions — not an "investigation," as explained by Sally Paxton — is exactly what Mr. Potter and Coca-Cola have wanted all along: a blatantly biased evaluation that will ignore past abuses and will not hold the company accountable in any meaningful way.
Because of Coke's partnerships and financial relationships with the United Nations, as well as the above-mentioned conflicts of interest, no arm of the UN can be considered an impartial, independent investigator or evaluator of Coca-Cola's labor relations and labor rights practices. Coca-Cola's scheme for worldwide growth specifically includes partnerships with the United Nations. For example, the company touts its $1.5 million fund to support up to 100 projects over five years. The projects involve education, the environment, culture/arts and sports, but essentially serve as vehicles to promote the Coca-Cola brand name and its beverages to young people, the primary target group for Coke's marketing. These projects include youth activities, such as the national youth day in Turkey and a large music festival called Rock 'n Coke.
In another UN-related public relations scam, Coca-Cola announced in mid-March that it had signed on to the UN Global Compact, which has been described by its senior officer, Gavin Power, as "a voluntary initiative to promote and advance a principles-based approach to corporate responsibility." Mr. Power added: "It is not a regulatory body nor monitoring instrument... The Global Compact is not a club for 'perfect companies,' if such organizations even exist. It is a platform for companies to work on universal principles and related challenging issues and improve their performance over time."
"The Global Compact is another public relations vehicle for imperfect companies," said Ray Rogers. "Nothing is expected of them nor do they expect to do anything to become perfect or even respectable."
TERI, Coca-Cola and India
Regarding the situation in India, Coca-Cola North America President Donald Knauss's April 10 letter to the University of Michigan's Mr. Slottow stated: "We are in active dialogue with TERI, a highly respected Delhi-based NGO with deep experience on sustainability issues to develop a transparent and impartial independent third party assessment of water resource management practices at Coca-Cola company facilities in India..."
One day later, Mr. Slottow wrote to Donald Knauss: "...(We) are supportive of your work with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a highly respected nonprofit organization with more than 30 years of experience and leadership on sustainability issues, to develop a transparent and independent third party assessment of water resource management practice at Coca-Cola bottling plants in India..."
How could the University of Michigan be duped into believing that TERI could develop an impartial independent third party assessment? Consider the facts:
Furthermore, the Coca-Cola Co. is publishing misleading articles and advertisements and making misleading presentations to college audiences, claiming:
But we ask: Could that award have anything to do with the fact that Coca-Cola pledged $10 million to international and local relief agencies, including the International Red Cross, after the tsunami disaster?
"This latest attempt by Coca-Cola to mislead the media, campus administrators and the public is just another example of how the company announces deceptive initiatives just prior to its annual shareholders' meetings," said Rogers. "Last year, it was the Cal Safety Compliance Corporation's bogus report clearing Coke of wrongdoing in Colombia, a report commissioned and paid for by Coke. The Los Angeles Times, Business Week and other major media exposed Cal Safety's lack of credibility and the fact that it overlooked the most egregious violations in several high-profile cases of human rights and labor abuses."
A thorough investigation into Cal Safety's monitoring methodology by Dr. Jill Esbenshade, author of "Monitoring Sweatshops," revealed that the company consistently failed to adhere to minimum accepted standards for competent factory investigations.
"This year's attempt by Coca-Cola to mislead the public is equally self-serving and deceptive," Rogers concluded. "If Mr. Slottow's decision is allowed to stand, the University of Michigan's reputation for high ethical standards and careful consideration of moral and ethical questions will have been compromised beyond any hope of repair.
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