Critical Talking Points
from the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
November 15, 2007
We are sending out these ten critical talking points to Campaign supporters worldwide, so that you will be able to better respond to Coke's lies and misleading information.
Some find it unbelievable that human rights abuses — systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder — are occurring at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. But it's not the first time Coke has committed such atrocities.
In a 1987 booklet, "Soft Drink, Hard Labour," the Latin America Bureau in London said:
"For nine years the 450 workers at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City fought a battle for their jobs, their trade union and their lives. Three times they occupied the plant — on the last occasion for 13 months. Three General Secretaries of their union were murdered and five other workers killed. Four more were kidnapped and have disappeared. Against all the odds they survived, thanks to their own extraordinary courage and help from fellow trade unionists in Guatemala and around the world.
"A huge international campaign of protests and boycotts was central to their struggle. As a result, the Coca-Cola workers forced concessions from one of the world's largest multinational food giants and kept the Guatemalan trade union movement alive through a dark age of government repression."
What happened at the Coke bottling plant in Guatemala in the '70s and '80s is still happening at Coke bottling plants in Colombia. The worldwide Campaign to Stop Killer Coke is dedicated to stopping such human rights abuses by Coke once and for all. We can't allow Coke's unsavory history to repeat itself anywhere in the world.
Lawsuits were filed against The Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers in Colombia in July 2001 and June 2006 by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers (USW), AFL-CIO. They sued on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, the major union representing Coke workers in Colombia, several of its members and the survivors of two murdered union leaders, Isidro Gil and Adolfo de Jesus Munera.
The 2001 lawsuit charged that Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."
Union leader Isidro Gil was killed on Dec. 5, 1996 inside the entrance of the Coke plant in Carepa by paramilitary thugs. Minutes after the thugs showed up, they shot and killed Gil, a member of the union executive board.
Two days later, heavily armed paramilitaries returned to the plant, called the workers together and told them if they didn't quit the union by 4 p.m., they, too, would be killed. Resignation forms were prepared in advance by Coca-Cola's plant manager, who had a history of socializing with the paramilitaries and had earlier "given (them) an order to carry out the task of destroying the union," the lawsuit says.
Fearing for their lives, union members working at the Carepa plant resigned en masse and fled the area. The company broke off contract negotiations and the union was crushed. Experienced workers who made about $380 a month were replaced by new hires at $130 a month.
The 2006 lawsuit charges that managers at the Coke bottling plant in Barranquilla, Colombia, conspired with both the Colombian Administrative Department of Security ("DAS") and another gang of paramilitary thugs to intimidate, threaten and ultimately kill SINALTRAINAL trade union leader Adolfo de Jesus Munera on August 31, 2002.
The complaint states that, "despite a number of warnings to Coca-Cola management in Atlanta that management in Barranquilla continued to meet with and provide plant access to paramilitaries, the paramilitary infiltration of this bottling plant continued unabated through 2006. These same paramilitaries continued to threaten SINALTRAINAL members and leaders with death and even kidnapped one union leader's child to discourage his father's union activities." (ILRF & USW, press release, 6/2/06)
The complaint further points out: "The Coke bottler in Barranquilla terminated the employment of Adolfo de Jesus Munera Lopez on the pretense that he was a 'guerilla' wanted by Colombian authorities. In fact, Mr. Munera was fired because of his pro-union activities. ...In 2003, the Constitutional Court of Colombia found that the Coke bottler had terminated Adolfo de Jesus Munera unlawfully and issued a back pay award, to be paid to his family, for the period from 1997 until his murder in 2002."
Coke boasts that the company and its bottlers have been dismissed from the human rights abuse lawsuits by Federal Judge Jose E. Martinez, but doesn't tell you that his rulings didn't deal with the merits of the cases, but with procedural and jurisdictional questions.
Meanwhile, the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke in January 2007, called for the recusal of Judge Martinez because of possible conflicts of interest involving the University of Miami, his old private law firm and the Coca-Cola Company.
In October 2006, after lawyers for SINALTRAINAL appealed Judge Jose E. Martinez's dismissal of the 2001 Colombian human rights abuse lawsuits, it was discovered that the judge may have had serious conflicts of interest. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke believes Judge Martinez should be recused in light of his strong ties to the University of Miami and its athletics, which are intertwined with Coca-Cola. There are also questions regarding his work defending corporations in product liability matters. In addition, his former law firm has a relationship with a Colombian law firm in which a name partner was a vice president of Coca-Cola Colombia.
Martinez, the University of Miami and UM Sports
Martinez is very closely connected to the University of Miami and its athletics, which are in large part sponsored by Coca-Cola.
He's a graduate of the University and its law school. Back in 2002, the Miami Herald reported that "he is best known for his sideline: color commentator on Spanish radio for Los Huracanes [The Hurricanes]" and that "the judge's passion often returns to University of Miami athletics." The Herald specified that he is "active in UM law school and athletic department functions...(and) serves as color commentator for Hurricanes football and baseball broadcasts on Spanish radio." The Herald quoted UM athletic director Paul Dee at the reception for Martinez when he became a judge, saying the "crowd might be impressed that the Hurricanes have won 32 straight games...'but that's nothing compared to the fact that we've never lost a game on Spanish radio.'"
Judge Martinez's role as a sports analyst for broadcasts of UM football games as early as 2003 is also described on the University of Miami Athletic Dept. website, sponsored by Coca-Cola . The University has had an exclusive beverage contract with Coca-Cola for years.
Judge Martinez has also "been active in UM matters, serving as...a member of the Governing Board of the UM Hurricane Club," according to the biographical note supplied for an Oct. 30, 2006 luncheon at which he was the keynote speaker. UM identifies the Hurricane Club as "the primary fundraising arm of the athletic department," which is heavily subsidized by Coke. Judge Martinez continues his active participation with UM sports.
In March 2003, Judge Martinez dismissed The Coca-Cola Company from the lawsuit brought in 2001, but allowed the lawsuit to continue against its bottlers. When he inappropriately dismissed Coke's Atlanta headquarters from the lawsuit, it had nothing to do with the merits of the case. Lawyers for the Colombian union say the judge found prematurely, and in error, that The Coca-Cola Company didn't have sufficient ownership or control of its bottlers to be liable.
He ruled prior to any discovery and the opportunity for plaintiffs to show that The Coca-Cola Company does have ownership and control. Martinez's decision was also based on a single document — a sample bottlers' agreement that Coca-Cola admitted wasn't the actual agreement with the Colombian bottlers cited in the lawsuit.
"The three years since Judge Martinez had dismissed Coke from the ATCA case in 2003 had not been kind to Terry Collingsworth and Dan Kovalik. Martinez's indifference, if not contempt, for the case was apparent from the get-go. He seemed to take pride in getting details wrong, at points referring to Uraba as "Bogota or Medellin or whatever the heck it was" and to Isidro Gil as "Joe Blow." His spontaneous style might seem refreshing to someone without a case before him, but to SINALTRAINAL's lawyers it was downright infuriating. Each June, he dismissed all pending motions, allowing them to be resubmitted the following year. Finally at a hearing in June 2006, Panamco's lawyer was reciting the judge's history of dismissals when Martinez broke in. "If you didn't know any better," he said, "you would think that I didn't want to have anything to do with this case, wouldn't you?"
"Collingsworth and Kovalik were flabbergasted to hear such disdain expressed openly by a United States judge. A few months later, Martinez proved the point in a ruling that finally dismissed all the bottlers from the case as well. "
From "The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink," by Michael Blanding (Penguin Books Ltd., Sept. 2010)
A Forbes magazine article in December 2003, "Coke's Sinful World," pointed out:
A Forbes magazine article in December 2003, "Coke's Sinful World," pointed out:
"The biggest bottlers aren't subsidiaries of Coke, nor are they completely independent. Coke effectively controls them by maintaining big equity stakes and a heavy presence on their boards, and by providing their main source of business. Yet it keeps its stakes in the bottlers below 50% thereby avoiding getting hit with their piles of debt and any unpleasant liabilities."
Coca-Cola FEMSA is Coke's largest Latin American bottler and a defendant in the litigation. FEMSA's website lists The Coca-Cola Company as owning either 31.6% or 39.6% of its capital stock (both figures are used) and 46.4% of its capital voting stock. Many of Coca-Cola's top executives serve as directors and alternate directors on Coca-Cola FEMSA's board.
When he gave The Coca-Cola Co. a pass in 2003, Martinez chose to ignore documents admittedly created by Coca-Cola, such as letters to consumers and a statement to shareholders that frankly acknowledged the company's control over workplace practices and its right to inspect the plants to ensure that local managers abide by human rights conventions and domestic law.
Martinez's Predisposition for Corporations
In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Martinez to the Federal bench. At his confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Dem.-Calif.) drew attention to his having "specialized in product liability litigation...advising and defending large corporations in product liability suits." Predictably, Martinez promised to be an objective judge, stating: "I think that I will do the right thing and the fair thing." (Senate Hearing 107-584, Pt. 4; Serial No. J-107-23)
Another ethics question came up last year when Martinez overturned a unanimous jury conviction against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami. The judge neglected to mention that he is a Eucharistic minister, playing a role in Catholic services at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Coral Gables. Fla.
Judge Martinez was a name partner at the Martinez & Gutierrez law firm from 1991 until the time of his nomination, September 2002. Upon his appointment to the bench, the firm was renamed Gutierrez & Associates, but retained as its web address, http://www.MartLaw.com, apparently referencing Martinez. The home page of Gutierrez & Associates highlights Jose Martinez's work as a partner, reflecting his importance to the firm. The Gutierrez & Associates list of representative clients includes such major corporations and governmental agencies as American Airlines; Borden, Inc.; California Insurance Commissioner; United States Tobacco International; Ford Motor Company; The Philip Morris Companies; Florida Department of Insurance; Emerson Electric Co.; BAC Florida Bank; US Education Finance Corporation; Terrabank, N.A.; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, and the government of Nicaragua.
Martinez himself, while at Martinez and Gutierrez, represented the Tobacco Institute in a case before the Supreme Court.
Gutierrez & Associates lists among its associated law firms a Bogota, Colombia firm, Gamboa, Chelela, Gamboa & Useche. That firm's website, in turn, identifies as a name partner Carlos Alberto Useche-Ponce de Leon, a former vice president of Coca-Cola de Colombia, S.A., who also serves as an "Advisor" to the Council of American Companies.
"Everything we have learned about Judge Martinez's connections to the interests of Coca-Cola, the University of Miami, its Coke-subsidized athletic department and his former law firm suggests at least the appearance of impropriety, if not actual bias," said Ray Rogers, director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. "To preserve the integrity of the judicial process, we believe he must be recused from the Coca-Cola cases."
Coke keeps claiming that it was exonerated of human rights abuse allegations by two judicial inquiries in Colombia and two "independent investigations" in the U.S. But no court in Colombia has ever ruled on the human rights claims against Coca-Cola. U.S. State Department human rights reports point out that only a handful of the thousands of murders of Colombian trade unionists in recent years have ever resulted in successful prosecutions. "Cases where the instigators and perpetrators of the murders of trade union leaders are identified are practically nonexistent, as is the handing down of guilty verdicts," said the State Department. So it's not surprising that the plaintiffs cannot secure justice through Colombian courts. That's why they're seeking redress through U.S. courts in the first place.
Coke states: "…(A) respected, independent third party found no instances of anti-union violence or intimidation at bottling plants." This refers to a bogus report issued in 2005 by Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, a Los Angeles-based company whose work was commissioned and paid for by The Coca-Cola Company. Cal Safety's monitoring record has been discredited in publications like the Los Angeles Times and Business Week. It is "not regarded as a credible monitoring organization within the mainstream worker rights advocate community as a result of its track record of missing egregious violations in high-profile cases and its flawed monitoring methodology," according to United Students Against Sweatshops, an international student movement fighting for sweatshop-free labor conditions and workers' rights.
USAS cites Cal Safety's poor monitoring track record as measured by Dr. Jill Esbenshade in her book, "Monitoring Sweatshops." Esbenshade conducted extensive interviews with Cal Safety auditors and directly observed the company's labor auditing in practice. She didn't find Cal Safety's poor track record surprising because she said they failed to adhere to minimum accepted standards for competent factory investigations.
Prior to the Cal Safety report, Coca-Cola repeatedly claimed that another group had investigated allegations of human rights abuses by Coke's bottlers in Colombia and exonerated both Coca-Cola and its bottlers. When students at Carleton College in Minnesota asked for a copy, they were told by a Coca-Cola representative that the report was done by White & Case, but was unavailable to the public. It so happens that White & Case is a large international corporate law firm that has represented Coca-Cola in lawsuits dealing with human rights abuses at its Colombian bottling plants. Alexis Rovzar, an executive partner at White & Case, serves as a director of Coca-Cola FEMSA, Colombia's largest Coca-Cola bottler and a defendant in the lawsuits.
In January 2004, New York City Councilmember and former police officer Hiram Monserrate led a delegation on a 10-day, fact-finding tour to Colombia to investigate allegations of human rights violations by Coca-Cola. "We heard one story after another of torture and injustice," said one member upon returning. "The sheer number of these testimonials was overwhelming."
The delegation issued a scathing report in April 2004 that said: "Coca-Cola is complicit in human rights abuses of its workers in Colombia...The conclusion that Coca-Cola bears responsibility for the campaign of terror leveled at its workers is unavoidable."
The report referred to "a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so...Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers...The delegation calls on the company to rectify the situation immediately, and calls on all people of conscience to join in putting pressure on the company to do so."
See Monserrate report, WB11 news feature and "State of the Union:"
In an Oct. 29, 2004 report prepared for the Human Rights Committee of the American Anthropological Assn., entitled "Labor and Human Rights: The Real Thing in Colombia,"American University Professor Lesley Gill wrote: "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…"
"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. It is a strategy that emerges from, and is facilitated by, pervasive impunity." Based on interviews and discussions held in Bogota from July 3-17, 2005, Gill believes there is little evidence to suggest that The Coca-Cola Co. has substantially changed its business practices in Colombia.
In July 2005, the London-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign published "The Anti-Coke Manifesto," a booklet by its secretary, Andy Higginbottom, a frequent visitor to Colombia. He reported that in 1993, SINALTRAINAL had 1,440 members working in Coke plants, but by 2004 that number had fallen to 389. Since at least the early 1990s, he says, Coke has used brutal methods to maximize return on its investments in Colombia and takes full advantage of the government's anti-labor policies.
Coke CEO E. Neville Isdell boasts: "We have solid relationships with organized labor in Colombia."
Responding to inquiries in April 2003, The Coca-Cola Company stated: "Coca-Cola bottlers have ongoing, normal relations with labor unions in Colombia and throughout Latin America . . . More than half the employees of our bottling partners in Latin America are unionized; in Colombia alone, almost 12,000 bottler employees are unionized."
In response to another inquiry in August 2005, the company said:
"The Coca-Cola Co. and our bottling partners have been valuable members of the Colombian community for more than 70 years and we respect the rights of all employees, including those who choose to be represented by labor unions...more than 30 percent of Coca-Cola system workers in Colombia are unionized, in a country where the average for all companies is about four percent...and employs approximately 8,000 people in Colombia..."
These claims are simply preposterous. Coca-Cola considers the vast majority of Coke workers in Colombia to be "flexible" workers employed through various subcontracting schemes, not employees. These workers 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 lobbying efforts in Colombia and the campaign of terror directed at union leaders, only about 4% of Coke's workers in Colombia belong to unions.
Andy Higginbottom of England's Kingston University has written: "In Colombia, neoliberalism as an economic model — identified especially by the policies of privatisation, deregulation and the 'flexibilisation' of labor — was imposed from 1990 onwards." In that year new labour laws were passed that eliminated nearly every legal protection for permanent employment contracts, which encouraged subcontracting and temporary working. As a result, Higginbottom noted, "there are very few private industry trade unions left."
Higginbottom estimated that in 1990, the Coca-Cola "system" in Colombia employed more than 12,000 workers, of whom 9,000 had permanent employment contracts. By 2001 there were only 2,500 direct employees, and by the beginning of 2005 less than 1,000 workers had stable employment contracts. The workforce employed...in Colombia is still nearly 10,000 workers, but 90% of these are now 'flexible' workers, employed indirectly through various forms of sub-contracting..."
Coke's claims that the United Nations' International Labor Organization is doing an "independent investigation" of the company's past and present labor practices in Colombia have no credibility whatsoever. The company's extensive personnel and financial links with the ILO and other UN agencies make such claims ridiculous, and the ILO itself contradicts Coke's assertion that it is conducting such an investigation.
On April 12, 2006, the ILO's Sally Paxton told Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Director Ray Rogers in a telephone conversation that the ILO, if they did anything, would only do an "assessment of current working conditions," not of past labor relations practices. She also 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. High-level ILO officials confirmed Ms. Paxton's interpretation in December 2006 and January 2007.
The ILO's very structure favors corporate interests. The ILO is made up of 28 representatives of governments, 14 from employers and 14 from labor. Labor observers and advocates who are familiar with the ILO say it's heavily skewed against workers, since most government representatives align themselves with the employers.
Coca-Cola's plans for worldwide growth specifically include partnerships with the United Nations, including a $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 Coca-Cola beverages to young people, the primary target group for Coke's marketers, through sponsorship of events like the national youth day in Turkey and a music festival called Rock 'n Coke. Because of Coke's partnerships and financial relationships with the United Nations, no arm of the UN could assess Coca-Cola's labor relations and labor rights practices in an impartial, independent manner.
Coca-Cola announced in March 2006 that it had signed on to the UN Global Compact, another public relations scam. Its senior officer, Gavin Power, described the Global Compact as "a voluntary initiative to promote and advance a principles-based approach to corporate responsibility." He emphasized that it "is not a regulatory body nor monitoring instrument...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."
When college students and others campaigning against Coke told the company that any investigation in Colombia must include both current and past issues and that issues relating to the human rights lawsuits already in process can't be excluded, they were rebuffed.
Why should investigators avert their eyes from murders, torture and kidnapping of union workers? Edward E. Potter, Coca-Cola's Director of Global Labor Relations and Workplace Accountability, can't or won't say.
One reason Potter apparently feels comfortable about the ILO's involvement in the controversy is that he is himself a member of its Applications of Conventions and Recommendations Committee. He has been and is currently the head spokesperson for the entire Employers' Group, a powerful role within the ILO structure that allows him to promote the interests of big business and Coca-Cola, in particular.
Potter was involved earlier, in 2005, in the creation of a "Commission" consisting of representatives of major universities and prominent worker rights advocacy organizations that were trying to develop a methodology for evaluating how or whether Coca-Cola aided the paramilitaries. When the commission asserted its independence by kicking Mr. Potter out, so it could then be truly independent, Coca-Cola began backing away from and creating reasons to delay and obstruct any meaningful investigation.
Finally, Mr. Potter insisted that Coke couldn't participate at all unless the attorneys who sued the company agreed that any evidence of Coke's abuses could not be used in their lawsuits. The lawyers refused this demand since compliance would require them to violate the rules of legal ethics, something Mr. Potter knew. Whether such a demand by Coke indicates its guilt is a legitimate question.
Consider what happened at the ILO meeting in Geneva in June 2007: 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 at a time when the Colombian government and multinational corporations keep getting unwanted attention for their ties to paramilitary death squads that prey on workers and their unions.
The so-called ILO investigation still hasn't occurred as this is written in September 2007. If it ever does, it will be exactly what Coca-Cola and Potter have wanted all along: a blatantly biased evaluation that will ignore past abuses and will not hold the company accountable in any meaningful way.
One of Coke's plants in India has been shut down since March 2004. The company's overexploitation and pollution of scarce water resources and the high levels of pesticides found in some of its products continue to spark huge protests.
And, as usual, Coke responds with public relations scams, deceptive statements and citations of phony awards.
According to Coca-Cola, "For four consecutive years, Coca-Cola plants in India have won the prestigious Golden Peacock Environment Management Award for environmental practices from the Institute of Directors, which grants the award in association with the World Environment Foundation."
Oddly enough, Coke doesn't mention the fact that Sanjiv Gupta, president and CEO of Coca-Cola India, sits on the executive council of the Institute and that Coca-Cola contributes heavily to the World Environment Foundation.
Coke also boasts: "In late 2005, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) recognized the Hindustan Coca-Cola Kaladera plant as a 'Water Efficient Unit' across industries at the National Awards for Excellence in Water Management." But Coke didn't disclose that Tarun Das, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, serves on the International Advisory Council of The Coca-Cola Company.
As recently as January 30-31, 2007, at two Canadian college campuses, Coca-Cola continued spreading misleading information about its activities in India and Colombia. Coke boasted that The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), described as "an Indian-based nonprofit research organization," had "begun an assessment of our company's water resource management practices in India" and would be 'working with an independent steering committee that will oversee the study..."
Months earlier, in April 2006, Coca-Cola's North American President Donald Knauss sent a letter to the University of Michigan's Chief Financial Officer, Tim Slottow, that said in part: "We are in active dialogue with TERI, a highly respected Dehli-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 facilities in India..." Mr. Slottow immediately responded for the university: "...[We] are supportive of your work with The Energy and Resource 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 practices at Coca-Cola bottling plants in India..."
It's simply amazing that any campus administrator, let alone the University of Michigan's CFO, could be duped into believing that TERI is impartial or independent. After all, Coca-Cola India Ltd. is listed by TERI on its website as a corporate sponsor and TERI Governing Council member Deepak S. Parekh is on the Advisory Board of Coca-Cola India. At least two current projects of TERI are sponsored by Coca-Cola India Ltd.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) issued a report of test results regarding unacceptable levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola soft drinks being sold throughout India. The India Resource Center, reported that the study found high levels of lindane, a confirmed carcinogen, sometimes as high as 140 times those allowed by EU and BIS standards; chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxin, sometimes as high as 200 times those allowed by EU and BIS standards; heptachlor, which is banned in India and not used in the US since 1988, was found in 71% of samples, at levels 4 times higher than the proposed BIS standards; and malathion, a pesticide that was found in 38.6% of the samples tested. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that workers wait at least 12 hours before entering an area where malathion has been applied.
"This is a grave public health scandal," said Sunita Narain, CSE's director and winner of the prestigious 2005 Stockholm Water Prize.
Coca-Cola tries to undercut the credibility of CSE's test results by raising questions about the accreditation of the CSE lab and the equipment and methodology it used. In the same breath, Coca-Cola says, "The methods used to test our finished products have been developed by the company and Control Science Laboratory (CSL), which is an independent laboratory used by the U.K. government. Although the validation of the methods has not been completed, they represent the state of the art in terms of procedure and technology. CSL runs an international program to test the proficiency of laboratories in analysis, including pesticides."
On January 5, 2007, The Coca-Cola Co. issued a "report" to Coca-Cola North America college and University Stakeholders focusing on issues in Colombia and India. In the report, Coke says: "Tests by the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) on soft drinks made by the Coca-Cola Co. in India detected no residues of the four pesticides allegedly found in the products by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). CSL's tests reported less than 0.1 parts per billion of each of these four pesticides."
But on August 14, 2006, BBC News had pointed out a significant flaw in CSL's tests. It reported that "the tests were done by the UK-based Centre Science Laboratory (CSL), which is known for its expertise in testing for pesticide residue in food. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which claims to have discovered the pesticide contamination in the first place, says the [CSL] scientists only tested Coca-Cola samples provided by the company itself.
"Frank Lavin, U.S. Undersecretary for International Trade, warned that bans imposed on soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi could blight India's hopes of attracting American investment and result in a setback for the country's economy."
Might this have been a warning to British and Indian political leaders that they had better play ball with the Coca-Colas of the world?
Coca-Cola's negative impact in Mexico is described by Beverly Bell in the magazine In These Times (10/6/06). Coke controls 60% of the soda market and "each Mexican consumes an average of 483 eight-ounce glasses of Coke per year, in a country where more than 12 million people do not have access to potable water," she writes. In recent years, Coke got lots of help in its efforts to privatize water from then-Mexican President Vincente Fox, who prior to his election in 2000 was president of Coca-Cola in Mexico and Latin America.
According to Bell, "Coke is also widely produced in Mexico, an arrangement that is threatening the country's water supplies and undercutting indigenous control of natural resources. It takes three cups of water to make one cup of Coke. Since 2000, Coca-Cola has negotiated 27 water concessions from the Mexican government. Nineteen of the concessions are for the extraction of water from aquifers and from 15 different rivers, some of which belong to indigenous peoples. Eight concessions are for the right of Coke to dump its industrial waste into public waters.
"To aid the extractive and dumping processes, Fox-with help from the World Bank-has successfully pursued water privatization, as well as a massive land privatization program, that allowed companies free access to all the resources on the land, including water.
"After Fox's victory in 2000, Coca-Cola began bottling water from the richest aquifer in the Chiapan town of San Cristobal de las Casas, an ecological reserve administered by a conservation group Pronatura, which receives money from Coca-Cola Mexico. In 2004, the Coke plant in San Cristobal de las Casas used 107,332,391 liters of water — about as much as 200,000 homes."
The adverse effects Coca-Cola's presence in the Chiapas region was noted in 2006 by the United Kingdom-based group War on Want. (The War on Want"s "Coca-Cola: The Alternative Report" can be found here in three languages.) Citing work by the Centre for Economic and Political Investigations of Community Action, the report notes: "Coca-Cola is positioning itself to take control of the water resources of the war-torn Mexican state of Chiapas, say local activists, who complain that the company has pressured local government officials into using preferential zoning laws to allow the privatization of water resources. Chiapas is rich in water, yet local communities have protested at being denied access to it."
Dr. Ann Lopez, author and environmental science teacher at San Jose City College in California, states:
"The people of west central Mexico are easy corporate prey for predator Coke. You can't stand anywhere in some of the rural towns and not see a Coke ad. I've seen what Coke is doing in the west central Mexico countryside where I do research: pushing their addictive products on peasant populations who can ill afford them and in which one in 10 may have undiagnosed diabetes."
She points out that struggling people, unaware of the ill effects of the soft drinks, will "sell the healthy things that they grow on the land, like corn, beans and eggs from chickens to buy cola which they eventually become addicted to." She quotes Vicente Silva, a former municipal president of Chilchota saying that "Coke and beer arrive at the Purépecha indigenous towns and villages, in the morning, before the arrival of milk!"
Coca-Cola has been criticized for discriminatory workplace practices in Mexico. The Chicago Tribune (10/30/06) reported: "Job seekers considered too old, too chunky or too dark are screened out by companies that sometimes specify the ideal candidate's marital status, height, weight, tone of voice, even the part of town in which the person should reside. What is less known is that many U.S. corporations — including Coca-Cola...are engaging in hiring practices that appear to violate their U.S. fair employment policies...
" 'Why are so many of them not complying with the same standards they have to comply with in the United States? Because they can get away with it,' said anti-discrimination attorney Gloria Allred."
In The Nation's May 1, 2006 cover story, "The Case Against Coca-Cola," Michael Blanding wrote: "In the past two years the Coke campaign has grown into the largest anti-corporate movement since the campaign against Nike for sweatshop abuses...The fight to hold [Coke] accountable has, in turn, broadly connected issues across continents to become a truly globalized grassroots movement."
As of August 2007, some 45 colleges and universities and a number of high schools had removed Coca-Cola from their campuses. Among them are large schools like New York University (the nation's largest private university), DePaul University in Illinois (the nation's largest Catholic university), and Rutgers in New Jersey (one of the nation's largest public universities), as well as smaller schools like San Jose City College, Union Theological Seminary, City University of New York Law School, Smith College and Manhattanville College. (activism_active_in_campaign.php">Click here to see entire list.)
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 Coke nor serve as a vehicle for its sales and advertising.
As The New York Sun reported (5/5/06): "The [City University of New York] Law School in Queens voted this week to ban Coca-Cola beverages in all campus vending machines. Student groups are prohibited from using school money to buy any Coca-Cola products for meetings or other events." As one student said: "We are a public interest law school and this was just such a glaring inconsistency with the reason that most people are at CUNY Law School."
The American Anthropological Association (AAA), representing 10,000 faculty members, passed a resolution in May 2006 calling for "a boycott of The Coca-Cola Company and its products, and calls on its members to do the same." The resolution added, "Investigations thus far have created a scholarly record of the operations and impact of The Coca-Cola Company through interviews with eyewitnesses; union organizers and other stakeholders; field observations; and archival research."
In July 2006, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), the nation's largest retirement fund, dropped The Coca-Cola Company from its CREF Social Choice Account and divested 1.25 million shares because its advisors found that Coca-Cola no longer meets the criteria for a socially responsible company. The $9 billion CREF Social Choice Account is the nation's largest socially screened fund for individual investors.
The divestment came after TIAA-CREF's advisor, KLD Research & Analytics, an independent research firm that is considered a world leader in defining corporate responsibility standards, removed Coke from its list of socially responsible companies; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (7/19/06). "KLD based its decisions on a number of issues — labor and human rights in Colombia, environmental issues in India and the marketing of high-calorie drinks to children in the United States."
In July 2007, it was announced that TIAA-CREF again will not allow any investments in The Coca-Cola Company because it does not meet the criteria as a socially-responsible company. It was also announced that Cola-Cola's two largest U.S. bottlers, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated have been dropped from the Broad Market Social Index (BMSI) list of socially-responsible companies. TIAA-CREF divested the stock it held in CCE and has banned any future investments in both CCE and Coca-Cola Bottling Consolidated.
Many of the largest labor unions, including teachers' unions in the U.S. and Europe, have called on their members to boycott Coke and have removed Coke vending machines and banned Coke products from their facilities and functions.
For the second year in a row, Coke, although still the number one global brand "because it is big and everywhere," according to Business Week, has lost a large portion of its brand name value. In 2005, its brand name was valued at $67.5 billion; in 2006 it lost 1% of its brand name value, which translates into a $680 million loss. This year, 2007, Coke lost 3 percent of its brand name value, about a $1.7 billion loss and a loss of more than $2 billion over the past two years. Only two brands in the top 30, Coke and Intel, had a loss of brand name value last year.
From the beginning of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, we've said that two key ingredients of our strategy were to cut off some of Coke's most important markets, such as schools and labor unions, and to pose a threat to Coca-Cola's brand name and its corporate image. From the Olympics to the World Cup games to college and university campuses and union halls worldwide, people are protesting to Stop Killer Coke.
Considering how lawless and destructive Coca-Cola's behavior has been in other parts of the world, it's no surprise that the beverage giant won't let U.S. trade sanctions or concerns about ethics get in the way of their plans for the lucrative market known as the Sudan.
You might ask: is that the same Sudan where one of the world's most brutal dictators presides over mass murder and violence? Sure, but for Coke it's just another profit center.
In 1997, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo freezing Sudanese government assets in the U.S. and prohibiting exports to and imports from Sudan because of human rights abuses and Sudan's links to terrorists.
On May 15, 1998, the African Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported: " 'When the U.S. government announced sanctions against Sudan four months ago, officials here shrugged their shoulders...Trade between the countries was low,' they said, so the measure would hardly affect the economy. Now, however, the effect is being felt: Coca-Cola, for example, pulled out of the country this week and, as a result, at least 7,000 workers and technicians have lost their jobs."
The newspaper Sudan Standard said that Coca-Cola International had requested that Egyptian industries stop shipping concentrate and chemical mixtures needed to manufacture Coca-Cola drinks to its subsidiary in Sudan. The paper quoted company authorities as saying that they had not received permission from the U.S. government to ship the inputs to Sudan.
Jeffrey Gettleman reported in The New York Times (10/24/06) "In 2002, Sudanese investors opened a new Coca-Cola factory, with Coke syrup legally exported to Sudan under an exemption for food and medicine. The $140-million plant churns out 100,000 bottles of Coke, Sprite and Fanta per hour..."
In opening up the plant, The Coca-Cola Co. exploited a loophole in the U.S. sanctions, thus propping up the Sudan economy and the government of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, an army general who seized power in 1989 through a military coup. Among the biggest beneficiaries of government revenues have been his troops in a country where the per capita income in 2005 was $640. Later, as the Darfur violence developed, Coca-Cola continued to supply the plant, ignoring the atrocities in Darfur.
As reported: A U.S. Treasury Department document states: "Except for information or informational materials and donated articles intended to relieve human suffering, such as food, clothing and medicine, and the licensed export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, no goods, technology, or services may be exported from the United States to Sudan, either directly or through third countries, without a license..."
Certainly, Coca-Cola products like Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Fanta, hardly meet the definition of a food or medicine "intended to relieve human suffering." And the syrup for these products is certainly not being donated.
In 2001, Nat Hentoff reported in the Village Voice: "We all know that the United States has placed certain trade restrictions on Sudan. Yet gum arabic is exempted, and it is the number one export of Sudan. Coca-Cola and the other major soft drink conglomerates need gum arabic. So what do we do? We proudly proclaim that we've got sanctions on Sudan, but we exempt gum arabic."
According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of Treasury Department, Coca-Cola has paid "to settle allegations of violations of the Sudan sanctions occurring between Jan. 2002 and April 2004...OFAC alleged that Coca-Cola exported to its bottler in Sudan services not authorized by its OFAC license and disregarded or evaded certain OFAC license restrictions. The services included financial and market support."
The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke urges everyone to demand that gum arabic not be imported from the Sudan and The Coca-Cola Co. should shut down its operations there. Coca-Cola should also compensate every worker affected by a shutdown the equivalent of four times the per capita income for Sudanese to help those workers' families adjust while seeking other means of making a living. Even if there were 7,000 employees, this would cost Coca-Cola less than $20 million, a drop in the bucket compared to the annual profits of $4 billion to $5 billion or the compensation paid to its executive officers.
Incidentally, Warren Buffett — who left Coca-Cola's board in 2006, but remains the company's largest shareholder with about 8.7% of common shares outstanding, worth nearly $12 billion — until recently was a major investor in the PetroChina Oil Company which gets oil from Sudan and has been targeted by the Sudan divestment community. "Oil has turned it [Sudan] into one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa — if not the world — emboldening the nation's already belligerent government and giving it the wherewithal to resist the Western demands to end the conflict in Darfur," The New York Times has reported. And Asia Business News (3/3/08) stated: "He [Buffett] has mostly sold out of Petro China at a substantial profit. Buffett was pressed at last May's AGM over the stake in Petro China over its drilling in the Darfur region of Sudan.