Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A few campaigns worth noting: One

A series of violent attacks over a period of several years on union organizers has taken place at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. The attacks, carried out by paramilitary groups, resulted in the deaths of eight union organizers with many other workers tortured or kidnapped. A number of others have been forced at gunpoint to sign statements resigning from the union.

In addition,
65 [union leaders] have received death threats. The bottlers have replaced union workers with temporary employees and contractors, many of whom earn just the minimum wage of $120 per month and don't receive benefits. The primary Coke bottler in Colombia shut down production at eleven of its plants in September 2003 and pressured 535 workers into "voluntarily resigning" from their contracts.
The result was a student-lead movement on an increasing number of college campuses to boycott Coca-Cola, focused primarily on cancellation or non-renewal of contracts the schools had with the company. An article posted on The Nation's website on March 24 says that
[s]o far, six colleges and universities in the United States - including Carleton, Oberlin and Bard - have responded to a call by the Colombian beverages union for a boycott, either by canceling contracts or banning vending machines. Campaigns are active at about ninety more, making this the largest anticorporate campaign since the one against Nike.
The article adds that the campaign has "rattled" Coke, which is sending executives to various campuses to try to put out the fires, including moves to dump Coke at New York University, 51,000-student Rutgers University, and 39,000-student University of Michigan.

The campaign got a boost when it became clear that Colombia is not the only issue:
In India, Coca-Cola is guilty of creating sever water shortages, polluting the soil and groundwater, distributing toxic waste as fertilizer to farmers, and selling sub-standard drinks in the Indian market which contain high levels of pesticides, sometimes higher than 30 times those allowed by European Union standards,
charges the India Resource Center.

Coke does seem to have its problems in India.
The bottling plant [in Plachimada, Keral,] remains shut down since March 2004 because the local village council is refusing to renew Coca-Cola's license to operate, citing it as a nuisance to the community. ...

Over a thousand villagers marched to Coca-Cola's factory gates in Mehdiganj in India in November 2004 to demand the plant's closure. ... And on March 23, to mark World Water Day, over 1,000 protesters showed up at the gates of Coca-Cola's factory in Plachimada, India, to demand the permanent closure of the factory.
What's more, Coke is banned from sale in the Parliament building.

Just for the record, here is the text of the letter Donna and I sent to Coke a few days ago:
We are writing to inform you that we are boycotting Coca-Cola products because of credible accusations that Coke has been involved with violation of human rights, undermining of public education, and environmental destruction.

We won't repeat the allegations here; we're sure you're aware of them.

What we will note instead is that some of the defenses Coke has offered are transparently false; for example, the claim that your company does not have a "controlling interest" in bottling plants in Colombia and therefore has no responsibility for what happens there. In addition to being the same as gun dealers selling weapons to known criminals and then insisting they have no responsibility for what was done with them, Coke's refusal to demand of their bottlers "Clean up your act or we'll just go somewhere else" marks it as a willing accessory to the brutality.

We are also unmoved by Coke's promise to "audit" working conditions at its plants around the world: The credibly accused does not get to decide the extent and nature of the investigation.

If Coke will cooperate - not just promise to, but actually cooperate - with an investigation of these very serious charges and if as a result of that investigation Coke either is exonerated or takes direct steps to rectify the failures shown, we will happily resume purchasing Coke products.

Until then, we are confirmed Pepsi drinkers. And 7-Up drinkers. And Mountain Dew drinkers. And so on.
Check at KillerCoke for news updates. In the meantime, a complete list of all Coke products can be found here. Many of the brands are regional, so for quick reference, these are the "big names" that I recognized in scanning the list:

All Coke products, obviously
Tab, Sprite, Fanta, Fresca, Dr. Pepper sodas
A&W and Barq's root beers
Seagram's, Schweppes, and Canada Dry ginger ales
Dannon yogurt
Minute Maid, Nestea, and Hi-C teas and juices

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