Coca-Cola, as one of the world’s highest-profile brands, is skilled at keeping its
darker side out of the public eye, and its skeletons firmly in the closet.
But in October a speaking tour of the UK will be holding some of Coca-Cola’s
best-concealed secrets up to public scrutiny.
The International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable will hold a speaking tour
in the UK from October 6 to17, 2004. It will focus on two countries out of the many
where Coke has come in for severe criticism over its labour, environmental and human
IN COLOMBIA, Coca-Cola bottling plant managers are accused of allowing and
encouraging paramilitary death squads to murder, torture and kidnap union leaders
and members in an effort to crush their union.
IN INDIA, Coca-Cola is accused of taking control of scarce underground water
sources, dumping contaminated industrial waste into farmers' water supplies, and
passing off industrial waste as fertilizer to farmers.
EDGAR PAEZ is the International Secretary of Colombian union SINALTRAINAL (National
Food Workers’ Union). This union represents Colombia’s Coca-Cola employees.
Edgar said recently, “Due to pressure and bullets, we haven’t been able to form the
union we wanted. But we will do it. My biggest dream is to achieve peace with social
justice for my people. We will put forward all our efforts and even our lives to
AMIT SRIVASTAVA is from the India Resource Center in London.
Together they will make a unified call from Colombia and India that Coca-Cola be
held accountable for its abuses of labour and human rights, and of the environment.
The tour will visit Bristol (Wednesday October 6), Liverpool (Thursday 7),
Manchester (Friday 8), Birmingham (Sunday 10), Bradford (Monday 11), Glasgow
(Tuesday 12), and London (Wednesday 13 to Sunday 17) with a series of events
coinciding with the European Social Forum, which will be taking place from October
15 to 17. Edgar Paez will also visit Dublin from Sunday 17 to Tuesday 19.
Wednesday October 6: BRISTOL – evening; time and venue TBC;
Thur 7: LIVERPOOL – The Crown Hotel, 43 Lime St, 7.30pm;
Fri 8: MANCHESTER – Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, M2, 6.30pm;
Sun 10: BIRMINGHAM – time and venue TBC;
Mon 11: BRADFORD - 1 in 12 Club, 7.30pm;
Tues 12: GLASGOW – Afternoon: Colville 420 at Strathclyde University, North Portland
Street, Glasgow G1, 1.00-200pm. Evening: Patrick Burgh Halls, 730pm. Probable visit
to Stirling University in the afternoon (contact below for more information);
Wed 13: SOAS LONDON – Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh St, London WC1;
Thurs 14 LONDON – The Foundry, exhibition on crimes in Colombia; contact below for
Fri 15 LONDON – European Social Forum workshop, details TBC (contact below for more
Sat 16 LONDON: European Social Forum event – Schnews Conference on Direct Action,
Camden Centre, Euston Road (Kings Cross tube), 2.00-7.00pm
TEN BRIEF BACKGROUND/ CONTEXT POINTS
1. MORE unionists are killed in Colombia every year than in the rest of the world
combined. 92 were killed in 2003 alone. Some 4,000 union members have been
assassinated since 1986. No-one has been arrested, tried or convicted for any of
these murders. In addition, unionists have been kidnapped, beaten and received death
2. IN ADDITION to the murders of unionists, there are around 7,000
politically-motivated murders EVERY YEAR in Colombia.
3. MOST of the violence is committed by members of paramilitary units, also known as
death squads, primarily the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). The
paramilitaries began as private armies employed by wealthy land-owners, but now
their collusion with the state military is an open secret in Colombia. The
collaboration has been repeatedly documented by Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch International. This collusion is demonstrated by the total impunity
with which the paramilitaries terrorize union activists.
4. COLOMBIA is a major supplier of oil and other resources to the United States, as
well as having great geo-political importance to the US. It is also the world’s
third-largest beneficiary of US military aid. The current civil war between the
state military and leftist guerillas began over 35 years ago. It has claimed around
300,000 lives, and left over half the population in severe poverty.
5. THE COMPLETE non-involvement of Colombian unions with the armed struggle of the
country’s leftist guerrillas is confirmed by many independent observers. But a
favourite tactic of the rightist paramilitaries, the state and multinational
corporations is to brand unionists as guerrillas for their advocacy of social
justice and equity. Such accusations can be equivalent to a death-sentence.
6. BOTH legal and illegal repression of unions is widely perceived in Colombia as
serving the interests of multinational corporations. Thus, the allegations against
Coca-Cola about its role in the violence against its workers are typical, rather
7. AN EXAMPLE of Coca-Cola’s involvement in the campaign to destroy union
effectiveness in Colombia: During violence in Carepa, in the Uraba region, in
1995-1996, local union leader Isidro Gil was shot dead by paramilitary gunmen inside
the Coke bottling plant.
The union had just presented their bargaining demands to the company. Hours later,
the union's office in town was burned down. And two days after that, paramilitaries
returned to the plant and made all the workers sign letters resigning their union
membership, under threat of death. The letters had been written and printed on the
Gil's murder was one of five from the Carepa plant, along with many disappearances
8. A DESCRIPTION of Gil’s murder by eye-witnesses has formed the centre-piece of a
groundbreaking lawsuit against Coca-Cola. In July 2001 SINALTRAINAL, in conjunction
with the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and the International Labor Rights
Fund (ILRF), began proceedings in the United States South Eastern District Court in
Florida against the Coca-Cola Company.
The lawsuit alleges that Coca-Cola subsidiaries in Colombia were involved in a
campaign of terror and murder towards its unionised workforce through the use of the
right-wing paramilitary troops of the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia).
Soon after this, Coca-Cola filed charges in a Colombian court against the U.S.
plaintiffs for slander and defamation. In early 2004, the Colombian prosecutor
dismissed the charges of slander and defamation as without merit. This is the second
time Coca-Cola's charges against its employees have been dismissed by Colombian
9. ATTACKS and threats have continued. For example, Juan Carlos Galvis, the vice
president of the union in Barrancabermeja, survived an assassination attempt on
August 22, 2003.
To date, there have been a total of 179 documented major human rights violations
against Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union
activists have also been murdered, abducted and tortured.
10. COCA-COLA and its subsidiaries should have investigated these attacks against
their workers, especially when they have occurred on company premises.
But they have done nothing; no-one has been charged for any of the nine murders of
Coca-Cola employees since 1994, and the company has not undertaken any
Coke has shown - at best - disregard for the lives of its workers, who have been
threatened, beaten, kidnapped, exiled and killed while the company has been standing
SINALTRAINAL initiated the world-wide boycott in June 2003. The campaign includes
demonstrations, a call for disinvestments in those institutions where Coca Cola is
represented, and a consumer boycott of its products.
Union leaders say the campaign will continue until Coca-Cola meets them to talk
about the union’s proposal for full reparations. This was put to Coca-Cola on
January 22 2003 in Bogotá.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, SEE:
Emilio Habana or Caleb Harris, Colombia Solidarity Campaign
E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
TEL: Caleb Harris 077 1723 0399