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Ray Rogers' Presentation to SUNY Albany University Auxiliary Services

December 10, 2007

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

In the spirit of open dialogue, I am here to shed light on Coca-Cola's worldwide labor, human rights, and environmental abuses and to rebut many of the company's public relations statements which are full of misinformation and lies.

A new book by the University of Bath in the United Kingdom says that universities and colleges in the U.S. have become "disturbingly" commercialized with corporations becoming too closely involved in academic research, classroom activities and college sports. Editor Christian Guilde of the Marketing Group in the University's School of Management states:

"Some campuses seem to have abandoned ethical standards in the quest for corporate dollars."

I hope that this cannot be said about SUNY Albany after this campus chooses what company or companies will provide its beverages.

On Nov. 19, 2007, a documentary entitled "Dispatches: Mark Thomas on Coca-Cola" was nationally televised in England. Mark Thomas is a well-known social critic and investigative journalist. The film's producer Sarah MacDonald has won British Academy of Film & Television Awards. Her investigative documentaries include, "Burma's Secret War," "Torture: The Dirty Business," and "Undercover in the Secret State of North Korea." The film highlights Coke's human rights and environmental abuses in Colombia and India, as well as Coke's ugly history of racial discrimination. The footage recently taken in El Salvador shows child laborers cutting sugar cane in the fields and shows trucks taking the cane from the fields to Coke's sugar supplier. There are interviews with Salvadoran political leaders very critical of Coke regarding child labor and environmental degradation. And there's a lot more in the film.

In July 2006, The Coca-Cola Co. was dropped from the Broad Market Social Index (BMSI) list of "socially responsible" companies. The BMSI list is prepared by KLD Research & Analytics, an independent investment research firm that is considered a world leader in defining corporate responsibility standards. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that "KLD based its decision on a number of issues – labor and human rights in Colombia, environmental issues in India..." and aggressive marketing of unhealthy soft drinks to children.

The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund known as TIAA-CREF divested 1.25 million shares of Coca-Cola Co. stock and has banned further investments in the company by its $9 billion CREF Social Choice Account, the nation's largest socially screened fund for individual investors, because Coke does not meet TIAA-CREF's standards as a socially responsible company. Coca-Cola Enterprises which provides Coca-Cola beverages to universities throughout New York and which shares directors with The Coca-Cola Co. and Colombia's largest bottler Coca-Cola FEMSA, a defendant in human rights abuse lawsuits, was also dropped from the Broad Market Social Index and the CREF Social Choice Account divested its stock as well.

At least 45 colleges and universities including Rutgers, one of the nation's largest public universities, New York University, the nation's largest private university and DePaul, one of the nation's largest Catholic universities have removed Coke products from their campuses because of the issues I'm raising today. After Smith College in Massachusetts decided to kick Coke off campus last May, College President Carol Christ issued a press release stating:

"This is not a decision reached lightly. Smith's relationship with Coca-Cola spans some five decades...As a private college with a public conscience, Smith College takes issues of human rights and environmental sustainability very seriously. Social responsibility is a core value of the college, one we aspire to reflect in our educational mission and in our campus operations. In severing our ties with the Coca-Cola Corporation, Smith joins other institutions and organizations around the world in urging Coca-Cola to take significant steps toward more responsible business practices across all realms of its operations."

Many of the nation's largest labor unions including teachers unions such as the New York State United Teachers, United University Professions at SUNY, NY City's United Federation of Teachers, Professional Staff Congress at City University of NY and the California Federation of Teachers have removed Coke machines from their offices and banned the sale and distribution of all Coke products from their facilities and functions and have called on members to boycott Coke.

The American Anthropological Association and its chapters representing 10,000 faculty members across the country have called for a boycott of Coke and will not allow hotels to serve Coke products at any of their functions.

In New York State, both conservative and liberal political leaders have raised the issue of divesting Coca-Cola stocks and bonds from state pension funds because of Coca-Cola's violations of U.S. sanctions and business practices with respect to countries like Sudan and N. Korea.

This year, Brand Republic reported on a 15 nation study into Coca-Cola's involvement in social causes and environmental responsibility. Two thirds of respondents questioned whether Coca-Cola makes a positive contribution to society and more than 40% felt Coke was not making a positive contribution.

In a long list of countries – including Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Turkey, the United States and Venezuela – Coke has been, and continues to be, the target of much anger, criticism and protest. And in May the British Broadcasting Corp. reported on accusations that The Coca-Cola Co. has benefited from prison labor in China.

Coke responds, as it always has, when confronted with evidence of labor, human rights and environmental abuses. The company treats its serious misconduct as a public relations matter and practices damage control. Like the big tobacco companies, coke spends billions annually to bolster an image of social responsibility that masks its ugly reality.

Coca-Cola has taken advantage of and exacerbated a tragic situation in Colombia. The Colombian government, multinationals like Chiquita and Coca-Cola and the paramilitary death squads all have something in common: they oppose any social movement, particularly a strong labor or human rights movement that can challenge their authority, there profits, or their brutality.

In 2004, New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate led a fact-finding mission to Colombia to investigate allegations of systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders. Upon returning, a member of the delegation said, "We heard one story after another of torture and injustice. The sheer number of these testimonials is overwhelming."

The delegation's report concluded: "There are troubling eyewitness accounts of paramilitaries having unrestricted access to Coke plants and of paramilitaries consorting with company managers. When the delegation traveled to Barrancabermeja, it conducted a physical assessment of access to the bottling plant there in order to understand more precisely what paramilitary access to company property entails. The plant in Barrancabermeja is surrounded by a 10-foot high iron fence. Entry is limited to a guarded gate, which remains closed. It is simply impossible to gain access to the plant without company knowledge and permission. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that paramilitaries in Coke's bottling plants were there with the full knowledge and/or tacit approval of the company."

The report further concluded: "The delegation found both the quantity and the nature of Coca-Cola workers' allegations shocking and compelling. It seems indisputable that Coke workers have been systematically persecuted for their union activity. It seems equally evident that the company has allowed, if not itself orchestrated, the human rights violations of its workers, and it has benefited economically from those violations..."

In 2004 American University Professor Lesley Gill who continues to spend much time doing research in Colombia reported: "Eighty percent of the Coca-Cola work force is now composed of non-union, temporary workers, and wages for these individuals are only a quarter of those earned by their unionized counterparts. Coca-Cola has consistently pressured unionized workers to resign... Coca-Cola is in fact a stridently anti-union company, and the destruction of SINALTRAINAL, as well as the capacity to drive wages into the ground, is one of the primary goals of the extra-judicial violence directed against workers..." She has not changed her opinion based on her recent work in Colombia.

Coke frequently defends itself against such accusations by misleading students, faculty and administrators. For example, Coke lies about the percentage of Coke workers in unions; they falsely claim 31 percent. However, Coca-Cola considers that the vast majority of Coke workers in Colombia are not employees, but rather "flexible," subcontracted workers who have no chance of union representation, receive low pay and meager benefits (if any), have no job security and often are mired in poverty. Due to Coke's campaign of terror directed at union leaders, only about 4% of Coke's workers in Colombia belong to unions. Recently, two groups of subcontracted workers attempted to join SINALTRAINAL, the major union representing Coke employees, but were fired.

Students and universities demanded that Coca-Cola agree to facilitate an independent investigation of alleged human rights abuses by its bottlers in Colombia. So a commission of students and campus administrators was created. But when Coke realized it couldn't control the process, the company, through its head of Global Labor Relations, Ed Potter, demanded that for an investigation to proceed, lawyers representing SINALTRAINAL and murdered and tortured victims, would have to agree that any evidence finding Coke bottlers guilty of human rights abuses would be inadmissible in court, something the lawyers could not do.

Then Coca-Cola came with the claim in April 2006 that the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations had agreed to do an investigation of past and present labor policies and practices of Coke bottlers in Colombia. Of course this has proven to be yet another public relations scam.

The Michigan Daily reported last April that Coca-Cola missed all deadlines set by the University of Michigan for March 2007. Those deadlines pertained to assessment of conditions for Coke workers in Colombia and environmental issues in India. On April 30, 2007, investigation results were to be reported to the university. This could not be done because no investigation had occurred and still no real investigation has occurred.

In fact, The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald (6/6/07) reported: "Employers led by a Coca-Cola executive [Director of Global Labor Relations Ed Potter] stopped the [United Nations'] International Labour Organisation examining violations of workplace rights in Colombia..." Potter appears to be working to shield Colombia and Coca-Cola from any real scrutiny.

With respect to India, one Coke plant in Plachimada, Kerala has been shut down since March 2004 and thousands of protesters in northern and southern India continue to draw attention to Coke's overexploitation and pollution of scarce water resources and high levels of pesticides found in its beverages. The Environmental Law Research Center in Geneva issued a report in May 2007 concluding that "The deterioration of groundwater in quality and quantity and the consequential public health problems and the destruction of the agricultural economy are the main problems identified in Plachimada. The activity of the Coca-Cola Co. has caused or contributed a great deal to these problems...the availability of good quality water for drinking purposes and agriculture [in India] has been affected dangerously due to the activity of the Company [The Coca-Cola Co.]. Apart from that, the Company had also polluted the agricultural lands by depositing the hazardous wastes. All these point to the gross violation of the basic human rights, that is, the right to life, right to livelihood and the violation of the pollution control laws."

Let me sum up by stating that the world of Coca-Cola continues to be a world full of lies, deception, immorality, corruption and widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses. When people think of Coca-Cola, they should think of a company that has inflicted great hardship and despair onto many people and communities throughout the world and undermined the health of millions of children. When consumers see Coca-Cola ads and beverages they should think of crimes and misconduct so unthinkable that all of Coke's products become undrinkable.

Universities can have a major impact on the way Coca-Cola is perceived and how fast the company cleans up its act. I hope we can count on SUNY Albany's support to hasten that day.

Thank you. I will be happy to answer any body's questions and to debate Coca-Cola representatives in any forum.

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