Coca-Cola Violence and the Courts
“The campaign is a movement of ‘we’s’ and not ‘I’s’,” said Ray Rogers, the campaign’s director, “and we need all the help we can get if justice is to prevail.”
In 2001 and 2006, lawsuits were filed in the United States against Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers, charging that the bottlers “contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders”.
The suits were filed by the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers union on behalf of SINALTRAINAL – the major union representing Coca-Cola workers in Colombia – several of its members who were falsely imprisoned and the survivors of Isidro Gil and Adolfo de Jesus Munera, two of its murdered officers. SINALTRAINAL vice-president Juan Carlos Galvis, best summed up the seriousness of the struggle with Coca-Cola: “If we lose this fight against Coke, first we will lose our union, next we will lose our jobs and then we will all lose our lives.”
In 2010, another lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs against Coca-Cola and Coke processing and bottling plants in Guatemala. This case involves charges of murder, rape and torture, including allegations that the son and nephew of union leader Jose Alberto Vicente Chavez were murdered and his teenage daughter gang-raped because of his union activities.
Other plaintiffs include union leader Armando Palacios and his family, who were victims of violence, including an attempt on Palacios’ life, in response to his lawful union activities. They were forced to flee Guatemala and are now living in the United States as political exiles.
The Film Coke Does Not Want You to See
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada and directed by German Gutierrez and Carmen Garcia, the film follows Campaign to Stop Killer Coke director Ray Rogers and labour rights lawyers Daniel Kovalik and Terry Collingsworth as they attempt to hold Coca-Cola accountable in a human rights and legal battle.
In 2010, Coca-Cola’s lawyers threatened legal action against the National Film Board of Canada, grassroots film collective Cinema Politica and sponsors of the International Human Rights Film Festival in Paris, France, if they showed the film. Fortunately, they did not cave in to Coke’s bullying and the film is playing to standing-room-only audiences.
The film focuses on only one aspect of Coke’s sinful world, but the company and its bottlers are involved in many other horrible crimes and misconduct.
Books Expose Child Labour and Other Abuses
Another book, The Coke Machine by Michael Blanding, was published in the United States in September 2010. A review of the book noted that “the colors of Coke, red and white, are appropriate, because while they whitewash the truth, there is blood on their hands...”
Coca-Cola & Tax Evasion
In China, based on undercover investigations at several Coke plants, Chinese press reported in December 2008 that Coke employees are “involved in the most dangerous, intense and tiresome labor, work the longest hours, but receive the lowest wages and face arrears and even cutbacks in their pay”. One investigator claimed that Coke violated Chinese labour laws and reported that workers “often worked 12 hours per day for an entire month without a single day off”.
BBC News reported in 2007 that Coca-Cola has been accused of benefiting from prison labour in China.
Coke’s Toxic Environmental Policies
After years of Coca-Cola lying and claiming innocence for environmental devastation in India, a three-member tribunal was set up by a legislative body in the state of Kerala in February 2011 to secure compensation for inhabitants of the village of Plachimada for damages caused by a Coca-Cola plant. Coke was forced to shut down the plant in 2004 after massive protests from surrounding farms and communities devastated by water scarcity and pollution.
Individuals affected by Coca-Cola's bottling operations in Plachimada will be able to seek financial compensation from the company for ecological damage, water pollution and water scarcity. It was recommended in a report by a high power committee established by the state government of Kerala that Coca-Cola be held liable for Indian Rupees 216 crore [US$48 million]. The report noted that the suggested figure of $48 million should not be treated as the outer limit of compensation and that the “actual compensation will have to be calculated by an authority duly set up for this purpose”. Other Coca-Cola plants in India are also the object of protests in the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Outsourcing: Turning Employees into Non-Employees
Coca-Cola’s outsourcing and subcontracting of jobs is plaguing workers internationally. Outsourced workers receive minimal pay, meagre, if any, benefits, no job security or future with the company and are fired if they try to join a union.
In December 2010, outsourced workers in Medellin, Colombia trying to join SINALTRAINAL, were fired and the Colombian police entered the bottling plant at the behest of the company. According to SINALTRAINAL president Javier Correa, the police remained in the Coca-Cola bottling plant 24 hours a day, terrorising workers.
How Safe is Coke?
Phosphoric acid, caramel colouring and the artificial sweetener, aspartame, used in Coke’s beverages are linked to numerous serious health disorders, including osteoporosis, stroke, heart attack, cancer and birth defects.
The campaign has led dozens of schools to remove Coca-Cola products from their campuses, costing the company tens of millions of dollars in losses. Some of the largest trade unions in the world, including the Irish National Teachers Organisation, NIPSA in the Six Counties, the Teachers Union of Ireland, UNISON, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in Canada and the United Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union and the American Postal Workers Union in the United States, have removed Coke machines and banned Coke products from their facilities and functions and called on their members to avoid purchasing and consuming Coke beverages.
“The Coca-Cola Company and many of its bottlers operate like a criminal syndicate with impunity,” said Ray Rogers.
“And the world of Coca-Cola is a world full of lies, deception, immorality, corruption and widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses.”
Only concerted action by outraged consumers – communities, students, trade unions and others – can force Coca-Cola to act responsibly and make retribution for its abuses.
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