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Coca-Cola and the War on Unions in Colombia

CLR Labor Alert posted April 1, 2002

In this Alert:
1. Coca-Cola and the War on Unions in Colombia.
2. Student and Youth Sign-on Letter
3. Coca-Cola Fact Sheet



The killing of trade unionists in Colombia increased by at least 50% in 2001, from 112 murders in 2000 to at least 171 in 2001, according to statistics gathered by Colombia's largest labor central, the CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores). The 2001 figures are preliminary, and could grow to more than 200 if CUT's Human Rights Department confirms all of ist outstanding reports of violence for last year. This is a difficult process because many local union officials, particularly those in rural areas, are reluctant to provide information because they fear retaliation by armed groups, especially paramilitaries.

As a part of a campaign to support union organizing in Colombia, Campaign for Labor Rights is seeking student organizational endorsements for a letter to the Coca-Cola Company. The letter demands that Coke take responsibility for the assassinations of the trade union leaders at the bottling plants it buys from in Colombia (please see the student sign-on letter and Coca-Cola fact sheet below).

We are gearing this letter toward students and youth because they make up a significant consumer base for Coca-Cola products- but the letter is just one part of this important new campaign. For Labor Alerts subscribers who are not students or are not a part of a student organization, we will keep you posted on this campaign and on ways you can act to support Coca-Cola workers in Colombia. Also, at the bottom of this Labor Alert is an announcement about the National Mobilization on Colombia - a great way to plug into organizing and action in support of trade unionists in Colombia.

The hope of the Coke campaign is that pressure on different fronts - corporate and governmental - will slow the militarism in Colombia and to create political space for worker and other civil society organizing.

The campaign is a coordinated effort among unions and labor rights organizations in Colombia and here in the U.S. The groups involved include the biggest Colombian Coke union, SINALTRAINAL, US/LEAP, the International Labor Rights Fund, the United Steelworkers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to launch this campaign against Coca-Cola. The campaign is built around a lawsuit against Coke to take responsibility for its bottlers in Colombia.

In the mid-80's, Coke took this responsibility with its bottlers in then-war-torn Guatemala and was able to stop a string of murders of Coke union leaders. The civil war in Colombia is no doubt getting worse. And this trend is made worse due to continued military aid from the U.S. and the recent congressional decision to give the country more military aid to fight "terrorism" in the country. Now the Bush Administration is considering not imposing any conditionality on the money sent - no way to ensure that human rights are respected.

Before September 11, the excuse to send military aid to Colombia was the "drug war," and the money went from the government to the paramilitaries, organizations that, according to a Human Rights Watch study, are responsible for a vast majority of the killings in Colombia. Union members are targets (more unionists are murdered in Colombia than the rest of the world combined) because it is one of the few civil society movements supporting the peace process and speaking out against civil war.

In the past few years, since the granting of US military aid to Colombia, the assassinations of trade unionists in Colombia have skyrocketed. Union members in Colombia are becoming causalities of the unmitigated "war against terror."



Below, please find the text of a sign-on letter to Coca-Cola written specifically for student and youth organizations to endorse. This letter will be presented at the Coca-Cola shareholders meeting on April 17th in New York. The deadline for signing-on is April 12.

Students: Please consult your organization about endorsing this letter and contact CLR if your organization decides to sign-on. The preferred format would include the name of one student from the organization (for space reasons) and the organization's name.

Local organizations and campus chapters of national student organizations are encouraged to sign-on. Getting as many local and campus chapter organizations as possible will be important to demonstrate the depth of support that exists for this campaign.

The Letter:

Douglas Daft
Coca-Cola Company

Dear Mr. Daft:

We, the undersigned national and local student leaders from campuses across the country, are concerned about the violence and human rights violations committed against Coca-Cola workers around the world. We believe that Coca-Cola has a responsibility to ensure that the rights and safety of all workers who produce, bottle and distribute Coca-Cola products are protected.

Recent news of the kidnapping, torture and murder of union workers at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia reminds us of Coke's history in Guatemala where union workers at a bottling facility there were assassinated in the 1970's and 80's. Again union workers in Guatemala are facing problems with Coke's bottlers while U.S. workers who produce Coca Cola's Minute Maid juices in Florida are subjected to extreme acts of intimidation and harassment. In fact, reports from Coca-Cola workers around the world suggest a pattern of human rights abuses that demands immediate attention.

As students, we make up a significant consumer base for Coca-Cola products. Coca-Cola is a fixture at many of our schools and we are alarmed by these reports. As representatives of student organizations pledged to activism in the name of social justice we will be informing our fellow students about what is going on at Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola has an opportunity now to be a true global leader. We demand that Coke take immediate action to address the violence that has devastated Coca-Cola bottling plant workers in Colombia and negotiate an enforceable global agreement that will protect the rights and safety of workers who produce, package and distribute its products with Coke unions and worker representatives.




[Provided by Carin Zelenko, Director, Office of Corporate & Strategic Initiatives, International Brotherhood of Teamsters]

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