Killer Coke (by Jessica Chee-Hing)

If the world knew that Coca-Cola soft drinks are made in vain, would they still buy them? If the world knew that taking one sip would allow us to ignore vital human rights that are constantly being violated, would we still pop in a dollar to get one 555mL can?

From the factories in Columbia to the bottling plants in India, Coca-Cola has turned a blind eye to injustices occurring in countries around the world that bottle the soft drink. Since 1986, roughly 4,000 Columbian trade unionists have been murdered. Their union, SINAL TRAINAL, calls for better worker conditions, better pay, and more benefits. Instead, the union leaders, union participants, and their families are in terror and constant fear of murder, torture, and kidnapping by paramilitary death squads.

The paramilitary groups often work in collaboration with the U.S.- supported Colombian military, and in some instances with managers at plants working for multinational corporations. To keep their employees in check, and to make sure no uprising of the unions are being discussed, the paramilitary groups, more commonly referred to as ‘death squads' look to kill union participants, with the approval of the plant managers.

Undisputed reports that Coca-Cola bottling plant managers in Columbia and India allowed and encouraged paramilitary death squads into the plants and into the homes of its workers to scare their families have been ignored by the Coca-Cola. SINALTRAINAL has long maintained that Coca-Cola is among the most notorious of employers in Colombia and that the company maintains open relations with murderous death squads as part of a program to intimidate trade union leaders.

In countries where the governments are indifferent to the working conditions of the people, Coca-Cola takes advantage. By allowing the horrible working conditions and the existence of paramilitary groups to continue, Coca-Cola is sending its workers to death. Protests around the world have been raising awareness about the horrific circumstances, but as usual, Coca-Cola has denied such reports.

How can one deny reports of 9-year-old boys being tortured and left to die at the side of a road because their fathers are the leaders of a union? Could Coca-Cola explain why the number of union workers in their plants has dropped from 1,300 to 450 in the last seven years without breaking laws of unjust and discriminatory firings of its employees?

Coca-Cola spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to promote ‘The Real Thing' in its advertisement campaign. The reality surrounding Coca-Cola shows a corporate network that is rampant with immorality, corruption and complicity in unjust slayings and torture of human beings.

Report after report has been filed against Coca-Cola, and finally, in July 2001 in a Miami federal court, a lawsuit was filed against the multimillion-dollar corporation. The charges against the corporate giant are; failure to prevent its bottlers in Colombia from bringing in right-wing paramilitary death squads to break up unions at its plants, and bearing responsibility for the abuses, including murder and torture, of its workers, under both federal and state law.

Coca-Cola has maintained that it is innocent, and on many occassions, claimed that the allegations are false and that they are an important part of the Columbian business community. On two separate occasions, two Columbian hearings found that there was no ‘substantial' evidence to back up that the workers in the Coca-Cola plants are being tortured and killed. Although that may have been true for that specific hearing, it doesn't make the accusations from hundreds of separate union workers any less real.

It wasn't until two years after the lawsuit was filed that the company's owners traveled to Columbia to see exactly what the workers were being subjected to. It shouldn't take two years just to make an initial effort to see if employees are being harassed. In two years, a supposed 200 workers were killed.

If any good can come out of this unfortunate cycle of accusations and refutations, it's that it opened many people's eyes to the injustices committed unto workers, not only in Columbia, but also in other countries around the world.

The abuse of workers by large corporations has not become evident in society recently. For hundreds of years, factory workers have faced poor wages, sexual abuse, flimsy social safety nets, a lack of legal protection, and appalling working conditions. When people's human rights are violated, it's not just by governments, leaders, or dictators. It can happen in our homes, on the streets and in the workplace. The problem is, when events like this occur, people are too scared to speak up. Fear for their lives, their families, as well as for their jobs become increasingly worrisome. Instead of standing up for their own human rights, factory workers continue on working in abysmal environments.

On websites such as www.killercoke.com, our eyes are opened to many injustices that are committed daily because of a single product. Someday, workers in abusive corporations will feel it necessary to speak out against such crimes, but until that time, people around the world must step up to be their voices.

Sources

"Coke Facts." cokefacts.org. 18 Dec 2005. <http://www.cokefacts.org/>.

"Coke Watch." cokewatch.org. 18 Dec 2005. <http://www.cokewatch.org/>.

"Coca-cola in Columbia:Intimidation and Murder." The Rational Radical. 31 July 2001. 18 Dec 2005. <http://www.therationalradical.com/dsep/coca-cola-colombia.htm>.

"Coca-Cola (Coke) Sued for Human Rights Abuses in Colombia." United Steel Workers Union and the International Labor Rights Fund 20 July 2001. 18 Dec 2005. <http://www.mindfully.org/Industry/Coca-Cola-Human-Rights20jul01.htm>.

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