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Killer Coke's deadly policies exposed

The Student Coalition to Cut the Coca-Cola Contract—with over 20 organizations representing 5,000 students at the University of Michigan—dealt the latest blow to the multi-billion dollar corporation...
Killer Coke’s deadly policies exposed

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

A formidable struggle against Coca-Cola’s labor and human-rights violations in Colombia and elsewhere continues building in the United States, Canada and many other countries.

The Student Coalition to Cut the Coca-Cola Contract—with over 20 organizations representing 5,000 students at the University of Michigan—dealt the latest blow to the multi-billion dollar corporation.

In a June 20 news release, the coalition announced that the university has placed Coke “on probation? until August 2006 because of the corporation’s actions in Colombia and India.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola markets four of the world’s top five soft-drink brands: Coke, Diet Coke, Fanta and Sprite. Foun ded in 1886, the company has operations in more than 200 countries. It produces nearly 400 beverage brands, including Dannon, Dasani, Minute Maid and Nestea.

Amit Srivastava, a leading member of the U of M student coalition and a member of the India Resource Center there, said: “The students at Michigan have secured a significant victory for the people of India and Colombia. Their actions have paved the way for other colleges and universities to join the growing number of campuses applying pressure on the Coca-Cola Co.? (

The university’s concession came only after a massive months-long campaign at various U of M campuses. Actions included two public hearings at the university. Representatives of Sinaltrainal, the labor union at Coca-Cola plants in Colombia, participated in the hearings, along with members of the Steel Workers union and United Students Against Sweatshops. Sinaltrainal is asking supporters to boycott all Coke products.

After a 10-month investigation by a university Dispute Review Board—an advisory body created by the university under pressure from the student coalition—Coke was found guilty of violating U of M’s Vendor Code of Conduct. According to the DRB, the decision was based on both scientific proof of high pesticide levels in Coke soft drinks in India and the corporation’s repeated violations of labor laws in Colombia.

In India, Coke has been selling products laced with pesticides, including DDT—sometimes at levels as high as 30 times those allowed by United States and European Union standards.

On May 19, the Food and Drug Admi ni stration barred a shipment of Coke products made in India from entering the United States. The grounds: the products were “unsafe? and “not conforming to U.S. laws.?

At U of M, the DRB said it would further assess the issues of Coke depleting groundwater and disposing of its toxic waste as fertilizer to farmers around its plants in India.

The DRB ordered Coke to submit to a third-party independent investigation regarding its corporate practices in India and Colombia by Sept. 30. An audit is to be completed by March 31, 2006. Coke is then supposed to adhere to a corrective action plan in place by May 31, 2006.

Furthermore, the university has renewed its contract with Coke only on a conditional three-month basis, beginning in June 2005 and pending satisfactory action by the corporation.

The DRB further stated that if Coke doesn’t meet these deadlines and satisfactory progress isn’t made, “the University business relationship with Coca-Cola shall be suspended and Coca-Cola products shall not be offered at the University, which includes but is not limited to vending, food service operations, athletic events and University-catered events.?

Killer Coke’s history

In the United States, Coke has a history of discriminating against African Amer icans. In June 2000 the corporation settled a class-action lawsuit with over 1,500 Black workers. There was massive evidence of unequal pay, biased promotions, a racially hostile work environment and retaliation against workers who aired grievances, according to the book “War in Colombia: Made In USA.? (

In Colombia, Coke’s main Latin Amer ican bottler, Panamco, is charged with hiring right-wing paramilitaries to assassinate and terrorize union leaders, their loved ones and their communities. (www.

Since 1989, at least eight union leaders from Coke’s bottling plants in Colombia have been murdered by paramilitary for ces. In the United States, the Steel Workers union is suing Coke and Pana mco under the Alien Claims Tort Act for having “contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that used extreme violence and murdered, tortured, and unlawfully detained trade union leaders.? (

More than 3,000 labor unionists have been assassinated in Colombia since 1990. In the recent period, many U.S-based corporations and the U.S. imperialist government, mostly through Plan Colombia, have worked hand-in-glove with the Colombian government and ruling class to perpetuate this terrorism.

Some 63 percent of the people of Colo mbia live in poverty—25 percent in abject misery.

But international unity and solidarity with Colombian unions is building rapidly:

* In April, the Representative Assembly of the 525,000-member New York State United Teachers union, an affiliate of the Federation of Teachers, adopted a resolution to refrain from serving or selling Coke products at its offices, events or meetings. (

* In recent months federations, labor councils, and unions across the United States have passed scores of resolutions to protest Coke’s labor and human-rights violations, banning Coke machines and pro ducts from union halls, and demanding schools remove Coke machines. The unions include various locals of the Postal Workers, California Federation of Teach ers, Communication Workers, Service Employees, Auto Workers, and Steel Workers. Many Canadian and British union locals have passed similar resolutions. (

* Bowing to massive student pressure, Rutgers University in New Jersey did not renew Coke’s exclusive beverage contract, effective June 1, 2005. Active campaigns to ban Coke are now under way at over 30 campuses in the United States and other countries.

* An “International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable? workshop was held at the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, Brazil in January. There, over 500 activists learned about ways to protest Killer Coke and support Colombian unionists. (

Motisola Abdallah, an African Amer ican woman and one of the original four plaintiffs who brought the discrimination lawsuit against Coke in 1999, sums up the Killer Coke struggle: “I’m happy that the struggle against Coca-Cola is long-term and global. It proves that workers wherever they live are all in this together. A corporation like Coca-Cola isn’t just unfair to its workers in one place. Injustice runs throughout a business where profit is the driving motivation.

“Anyone fighting for justice can’t give up. Together we can bring change, real harmony, real justice.? (War in Colombia)

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(c) 2005 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in full or in part provided full attribution is given to author.

Labor donated.

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