Public Employee Press
Death squad charges set off Coke Boycott
By JANE LaTOUR
The Coca-Cola Co. projects an image of fun, energy and excitement, with its fiery red trucks and red-shirted drivers. For years, its TV commercials sold its nutrition-free drinks with the slogan, "Coke adds life." But Coke plants in Latin America have repeatedly been charged with using paramilitary death squads to kill union members and organizers, and a boycott movement is spreading among colleges and unions in the United States.
Regular and Diet Coke are the two top-selling sodas in the United States, the flagship products of the huge corporation that sponsors Wednesday amateur nights at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. But a different drama is unfolding downtown in a courtroom, where Guatemalan unions are pressing a case against the multinational on behalf of labor activists from Coca-Cola bottling plants who have been tortured and killed.
In 2004, the Human Rights Watch group exposed Coke suppliers' use of children to harvest sugar cane in El Salvador. Mexico and Colombia have their own horror stories of labor and human rights violations, and in India and Pakistan the company faces charges of environmental crimes. But the profits flow in, and the conglomerate pays its directors - such as Cathy Black, New York City's recently-deposed Schools Chancellor - up to $200,000 a year for attending 10 meetings and defending Coke's way of doing business.
Ray Rogers of Corporate Campaign runs the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, using his vaunted research and publicity skills to tell the world that Coke is unfair to workers. For more information, visit the Web site www.KillerCoke.org
The boycott, aimed at stopping the gruesome violence against unionists, is growing. Students have convinced over 20 universities to ban Coke from their campuses. The latest unions to join the campaign are the United Auto Workers and DC 37's Clerical-Administrative Employees Local 1549, which has voted to stop serving Coke-owned products, including Dr. Pepper and Snapple, at union events.