Saturday 16th August 10pm-7am
Come celebrate the demise of the marketing giant who brought you Santa Claus in red and white.
Eton Mission Social Club, 91 Eastway, Hackney Wick, London
Live Algerian band
Egyptian belly dancing with a Japanese twist
Dj's (reggae, dancehall, breaks, drum n bass)
Video about the atrocitties of Coca Cola in Colombia
You can get buses 26, 30, 236, 388 to Hackney Wick or the Silverlink train to Hackney Wick station. Look out for the hall next to the church.
The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) statement opposing the Coke boycott (posted on their website 11 July 2003 but since apparently withdrawn) is remarkable both for its unfortunate timing and its deeply disappointing content. I hope and expect that the Colombian union SINALTRAINAL will respond in due course, but right now the union's focus is on the launching the boycott both inside Colombia and internationally. These observations are no more than interim points in defence of SINALTRAINAL's boycott call.
The boycott is complimentary to the legal case that has been brought in the Florida civil courts under the Alien Torts Act on behalf of the relatives of the victims. This case has set a trend, a similar action against the US coal company Drummond Coporation has just been lodged in Alabama and a case against Occidental Oil is pending. The accumulation of the evidence on which
these cases are founded is itself a dangerous and difficult process. One of the key targets of the paramilitaries are precisely those who gather such evidence. The additional dangers have been worth it, for the first time US corporations are being put on the defensive. This is already a tremendous step forward.
SINALTRAINAL has been at pains to consult widely within its membership, with the Colombian trade union federations and internationally. The rate of unionisation in Colombia's private sector is extremely low, it takes special qualities in a union organisation to survive. Last December I observed SINALTRAINAL's six-monthly assembly of branch representatives, and was able
to see at least in part the union's culture which is based on militancy and mobilisation. The union organises in Nestle and Kraft as well as Coca Cola.
The delegates had a full say in developing the union's negotiating tactics with each employer. All of these local leaders live on the envelope of danger to themselves and their families, yet they refused to buckle under the tremendous psychological pressure. Their commitment is matter of fact, deeply moving, heroic. It deserves recognition and respect.
SINALTRAINAL is a trade union, that is it organisers workers in the food and drinks sector. But the concept of trade unionism applied is inclusive rather than narrow. SINALTRAINAL works with other unions, human rights organisations and social movements in a network called "Campaign Against Impunity - Colombia Claims Justice". The union sponsors educational outreach
work in the community. I have heard a rumour that such activity is held against the union. How ridiculous and petty! And SINALTRAINAL is fully involved in the work of the CUT federation. These two factors are not in contradiction, surely
working with other social groups as equals strengthens the trade union movement.
There is a political issue at stake. SINALTRAINAL is an example of what has been called 'social movement unionism'. There are unions following this approach in Colombia, the most notable being the public sector workers union SINTRAEMCALI. This is in stark contrast to the Colombian government's preferred model, what Uribe calls 'participatory unions'. What he means is unions that keep their heads down and their mouths shut, collaborationist unions co-opted to the neo-liberal project - so long as it doesn't hit them too hard.
SINALTRAINAL really does not have the luxury of a choice. It is fightback or perish.
The call for an international boycott did not come out of the blue. SINALTRAINAL has been trying to get Coca Cola to respond to its complaints for years. There is no effective recourse under Colombian law, hence the necessity of an internationally projected campaign to bring pressure to bear on the employer. Working with its growing support network, and with the
endorsement of its own federation the CUT and the CGTD, SINALTRAINAL initiated three public hearings on Coca Cola and human rights. The first took place in Atlanta, Georgia 20-22 July last year; the second in Brussels on 10 October and the third in Bogota on 5 December. I attended the last two hearings, which were both fully attended and in which the tactic of a
boycott was openly raised for discussion. Despite being invited, Coca Cola chose not to attend.
The proposal to launch the boycott call was taken to the World Social Forum in Brazil. Where better? The launch platform in Bogota was led by CUT President Carlos Rodriguez and Director of Human Rights Department Domingo Tovar. Who better?
We are on the verge of a breakthrough in bringing the plight of Colombian trade unionists to public attention. The choice for us is between protecting Coca Cola's global brand or an international mobilisation of popular solidarity. Have no doubt that the boycott has only just begun, and it will be escalated over the next year.
Secretary Colombia Solidarity Campaign, London
THE COCA-COLONISATION OF INDIA
Coca-Cola's 'toxic' India fertiliser
Waste product from a Coca-Cola plant in India which the company provides as fertiliser for local farmers contains toxic chemicals, a BBC study has found. Dangerous levels of the known carcinogen cadmium have been found in the sludge produced from the plant in the southern state of Kerala. The chemicals were traced in an investigation by BBC Radio 4's Face The Facts programme and prompted scientists to call for the practice to be halted immediately. However, Vice-President of Coca-Cola in India, Sunil Gupta, denied the fertiliser posed any risk. "We have scientific evidence to prove it is absolutely safe and we have never had any complaints," Mr Gupta said.
The results have devastating consequences for those living near the areas where this waste has been dumped
Professor John Henry, poisons expert
Face The Facts presenter John Waite visited the plant following complaints from villagers that water supplies were drying up because of the massive quantities of water required by Coca-Cola. Villagers, politicians, environmentalists and scientists have accused the firm of robbing the community of the area's most precious resource. They say the area's farming industry has been devastated and jobs, as well as the health of local people, have been put at risk.
'Disturbing' As part of the probe, Face The Facts sent sludge samples to the UK for examination at the University of Exeter.
Tests revealed the material was useless as a fertiliser and contained a number of toxic metals, including cadmium and lead. The lab's senior scientist, David Santillo, said: "What is particularly disturbing is that the contamination has spread to the water supply - with levels of lead in a nearby well at levels well above those set by the World Health Organisation." According to Britain's leading poisons expert, Professor John Henry, consultant at St Mary's Hospital in London, immediate steps should be taken by the authorities in India to ban the practice immediately. The levels of toxins found in the samples would, he said, cause serious problems - polluting the land, local water supplies and the food chain. "The results have devastating consequences for those living near the areas where this waste has been dumped and for the thousands who depend on crops produced in these fields," Professor Henry said.
'Good for crops' Cadmium is a carcinogen and can accumulate in the kidneys, with repeated exposure possibly causing kidney failure.
Lead is particularly dangerous to children and the results of exposure can be fatal. Even at low levels it can cause mental retardation and severe anaemia. Professor Henry said: "What most worries me about the levels found is how this might be affecting pregnant women in the area. You would expect to see an increase in miscarriages, still births and premature deliveries." Mr Gupta said local farmers had been grateful for the fertiliser because many could not afford brand-name products of their own. "It's good for crops," he said. "It's good for the farmers because most of them are poor and they have been using this for the past three years." Coca-Cola say they will continue to supply the sludge to farmers.
CSE's POLLUTION MONITORING LABORATORY
In February this year, CSE released a study on pesticide residues in bottled water. Readers wrote in asking if the
same was true for cold drinks. Yes, but this time the stakes are higher. Tests carried out by the Pollution Monitoring
Laboratory found deadly insecticides in twelve leading brands of cold drinks. And in India, they can get away with this.
All this and more, visit: http://www.cseindia.org/html/cola-indepth/index.htm
DOWN TO EARTH MAGAZINE
It turns out that Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Mirinda Orange,Mirinda lemon, Blue Pepsi, 7-Up, Coca Cola, Fanta, Limca,
Sprite and Thums Up are...COLONISATION'S DIRTY DOZEN
But the study asks some larger questions - why isn't the cold drinks industry in India adequately regulated? Who is ensuring the quality of water used for cold drinks, or for that matter even bottled water?
PESTICIDES IS THE POINT, NOT BOTTLED WATER OR SOFT DRINKS
In February, we released a study on pesticide residues in bottled water being sold in the market. We reported how we
found legalised pesticides in bottled water. In other words, the norms for regulating pesticide levels in these bottles
were so designed that pesticide residues would not be detected.
We had no intentions of following up this study with investigations in other products. Then our readers wrote to us.
They wanted to know: if what we had to say about the bottled water industry was correct, then what about soft drink manufacturers? After all, they all used water as a raw material. They also sourced their water largely from groundwater. We had, they said, a responsibility to tell.
By May, it was also evident that government was prevaricating on legislating the amended, stringent norms for bottled water.
Industry pressure, we were told by wags, was enormous. Stakes were high.
Something was fishy. Most of the big players in the bottled water industry, we knew, had the capability to treat and clean
the water. They also catered to hapless consumers with little choice but to pay more for water, than for milk. Municipal
supplies were unreliable. Theirs was a thriving business. Nothing, not even a little pesticide, would hold it back. Then
why the opposition?
Could it be that the stakes were even higher than we had imagined? Suppose, what was really at stake was not the bottled
water industry and its Rs 1000 crore business, but the soft drink industry and its estimated Rs 6000-7000 crore business.
Indians drink on an average 6.6 billion bottles of soft drinks each year and business is flourishing. Suppose, just for a minute,
that this industry has skeletons, which would come tumbling out if the bottled water industry was further regulated.
No, we told ourselves, this could not be true. After all, this mega industry of the beautiful people is well established. It is
old. It is reputed. Giants of the corporate world control it, who swear by responsibility and citizenship.
But we were stunned. All bottles of soft drinks analysed at the Centre's pollution monitoring laboratory had pesticides, in much
higher quantities than considered safe for humans. The sum of all pesticides in the PepsiCo brands added up to 0.0180 mg/l, 36 times higher than the European Union's limit (EEC) for total pesticides.
Coca-Cola brands had 0.0150 mg/l of all pesticides, 30 times more than the same EEC limit.
Even more startling we found that this human health-impacting industry is more or less unregulated. The Bureau of Indian
Standards (BIS) had, at least, some kind of mandatory standards for the bottled water industry. In comparison, nothing exists for
this 'food' industry. It is regulated under a plethora of agencies and standards but most are meaningless or plain ridiculous. It
gets licensed under the Food Products Order and further regulated under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. The BIS
standards, set for it roughly 10 years ago, are voluntary. In other words, this massive industry has been massively let off.
Worse, none of the pieces of legislation even mention the fact that raw water - over 90 per cent of the finished product --
needs scrutiny. The limit for deadly arsenic and lead in soft drinks has been set 50 times higher than the allowed standards
for bottled water or drinking water. Did the regulators just forget these facts? Or was it deliberate amnesia?
Let us be clear, this is not a case involving little companies struggling to make ends meet, that regulators know cannot be
regulated. This involves only two large companies, which incidentally also control the world markets. More importantly,
this involves an industry that is a food industry. It impacts our health. Directly.
But there are even bigger stakes at hand. The study on pesticides in bottled water brought us some predictable responses. Industry argued it is unfair to ask for stringent regulation on pesticides. We cannot afford it, industry said, and these norms are
unnecessary because the pesticide residues found are in such small quantities that they are harmless. Amazing. What wisdom
from such wise people. Pesticides are deadly in small quantities. They accumulate over time in our bodies. Increasing evidence
shows that some pesticides - such as chlorpyrifos, a popular insecticide in India - are deadly even if the exposure is tiny.
The other, I consider facetious, argument is why only target bottled water. The food we eat, say these great critics, is far
more contaminated. Indians eat much more than their daily dose.
But they are missing the point. Pesticide, not bottled water or soft drinks, is the point. It is imperative to have a policy for
safe use of pesticides. A policy for safe pesticides. It is clear that once our soil, food and water is contaminated, it will be
prohibitively expensive to clean. We have no choice but to work on the basis of the precautionary principle. For this we need
seriously stringent regulations, to curtail use and to work towards new strategies for 'safe' substances. We cannot afford
to clean up after the poisoning. We have no antidote. Whatever the industry and government may believe.
I do not know how the two corporate giants will receive our findings. But for me, the more important matter is if you, our
readers, believe that we have done justice to the question you asked us. The consumer in the free world, they say, is king.
So let the king pass sentence.
Editor, Down to Earth
More in the latest Cover Story: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/cover_nl.asp?mode=1
See also: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/cms.dll/html/comp/articleshow?msid=115007
Colombia Solidarity Campaign