September 2001 - VOLUME 22 - NUMBER 9
T H E F R O N T
Coke Abuse in Colombia
Coca-Cola and its associates are responsible for the systematic
intimidation, kidnapping, detention and murder of union members
working at the companys Colombia bottling plants, charges a labor
coalition in a July lawsuit.
The United Steel Workers Union and the International Labor Rights Fund
joined forces with a Colombian union to file suit against Coca-Cola, its
Latin American bottler and two Key Biscayne, Florida investors who own
a bottling company in Colombia. The suit was filed in a federal court
Coke, which denies the allegations, has until October 23 to file a formal
The case was initiated by SINALTRAINAL (the National Union of Food Industry
Workers, in Colombia), which alleges the companys Colombian partners
maintain open relations with murderous death squads as part of a strategy
to intimidate trade union leaders. Five union members working in Coke
bottling plants in Colombia have been killed since 1994.
In June, one union worker Oscar Polo was shot to death
as he was walking in the street with his youngest daughter. Polo had been
involved at the time in negotiations with the management of Cokes
plant in Monertia, Cordoba province, over proposals to provide security
to trade unionists under threat.
The lawsuit also alleges that, in 1994, paramilitary forces murdered
two SINALTRAINAL members, Jose David and Luis Granado, and then presented
the rest of the workforce with an ultimatum to either resign from the
union or flee Carepa, where the bottling facility is located.
The management of Bebidas y Alimentos [the Carepa bottling company]
permitted these paramilitary forces to appear within the plant to deliver
this message to union members and leaders, the plaintiffs allege.
Colombia holds the infamous distinction of being ranked number one in
the world for the number of trade union leaders murdered each year. According
to Amnesty International, at least 112 trade unionists were executed in
the country last year.
Although it is widely agreed that right-wing paramilitaries are doing
most of the killing of Colombian union activists, it is less clear who
is ordering the killings. The SINALTRAINAL suit is the first to link a
North American multinational to such atrocities in the country.
A spokesperson for Coke at its headquarters in Atlanta referred Multinational
Monitor to the companys spokesperson in Colombia.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that Coke will have a hard time disassociating
itself from the case because of its partial ownership of the Latin American
bottling affiliate, and because of detailed contractual agreements which
provide it strong oversight over operations that bottle its brand of soda.
Throughout the world, the Coca-Cola Company operates in conjunction
with bottling companies under contract to bottle our products, Largacha
says. While the Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers are separate
companies, we work with all of those bottlers to ensure global consistency
of production and marketing of our brands.
Terry Collingsworth, an attorney with the International Labor Rights
Fund, says the companys claims of global consistency
oblige it to assume responsibility for the atrocities in Colombia. The
company stepped in to curb human rights abuses in Guatemala after three
union leaders were killed in the 1980s. The intervention shows that the
company could stop the Colombian atrocities if it wants to, he argues.
The plaintiffs say that they turned to the U.S. courts for relief because
they do not have access to an independent or functioning legal system
Not one perpetrator has been successfully prosecuted
for any of the thousands of cases of trade union assassination which have
taken place since 1986.