Coca Cola is the world’s best selling non alcoholic drink. Its white lettering on red background is the world symbol of the American Way of Life and capitalist success. However, Coca Cola’s expansion throughout the world is only made possible, by the company’s aggressive policy of imposing the drinks consumption above and beyond any cultural habits and preferences that the people of the world may have. From advertising campaigns perversely aimed at children, to a commercial policy that has never shied from crime and terror as instruments to impede and limit trade union organisation among their workers, Coca Cola has arrived in every country of the world, multiplying its sales and profits.
A clear example of this heartless and inhuman expansion, is Coke’s response to the creation of a trade union in their Guatemalan bottling plants during the 70s and 80s. Management employed paramilitary death squads to assassinate 6 trade union leaders and disappear 4 others. Despite international denunciations from the Guatemalan trade union, Coca Cola only intervened when pressured to act by an international boycott.
Another example is Coca Cola’s current behaviour in Colombia, where there are 20 Coca Cola bottling plants. The workers in these plants are affiliated to SINALTRAINAL, the national food and drinks workers union. On 22 July 1986, Hector Daniel Useche Beron, a Nestle worker and SINALTRAINAL leader was assassinated in Bugalagrande. From this day on, terror and violence have been the principle tool that the food and drink multinationals, supported by the Colombian state, have used to destroy the trade union.
As a result of this terror, SINALTRAINAL have seen their membership figures plummet to 2,300. 14 of their leaders have been assassinated, 7 of which were Coca Cola workers, 3 of whom were murdered inside their workplaces. 48 more activists have been forcibly displaced by death threats, 2 have fled the country, 2 have been disappeared and many more have been imprisoned. Workplaces have been militarised, and in one plant, paramilitaries were allowed free access for a whole week, while they forced trade unionists to renounce their membership at gun point. Neither Coca Cola nor the Colombian authorities did anything.
To add to the violence, the State and Coca Cola have unleashed a campaign of criminalisation of the union and any social protest. This has included announcements from management that the union is linked to guerrilla groups and legal actions against Sinaltrainal members on terrorism and rebellion charges, based on set ups and falsified evidence Trade union offices are regularly raided, one was burned to the ground, and most recently Coca Cola have sued the union for calumny and defamation.
The Colombian state, in a display of complicity with the multinational has not investigated, charged or sanctioned anyone for carrying out this terror. On the contrary, they continue their own persecution of the trade union and social movement, they dismantle existing workers rights, set up maquila or sweat shop zones, and increase the criminalisation of social protest and escalate Colombia’s dirty war.
The following are just some of the abuses which killer Coke have carried out in Colombia:
- On the 2 May 1992, Jose Gabriel Castro, MD of Coca Cola in Colombia, publicly accused the workers and Sinaltrainal of being guerrilla agents.
- In April 1994, Jose Eleazar Manco David, Sinaltrainal activist and Coca Cola worker was assassinated in Carepa, Antioquia.
- 23 April 1995, Luis Enrique Gomez Granados, Sinaltrainal activist and Coca Cola worker was assassinated, also in Carepa.
- 4 November 1995, 5th Brigade of the Colombian army raid Sinaltrainal office in Bucaramanga, Santander.
- 30 September 1996, same Sinaltrainal office raided, this time by National Police.
- 5 December 1996, assassination of Isidro Segundo Gil Gil, Secretary General of Sinaltrainal in Carepa. He was assassinated by paramilitaries inside the plant while negotiating the workers’ collective agreement.
- 5 December 1996, paramilitaries force their way into Sinaltrainal offices in Carepa, take all documents and set fire to the building.
- 9 December 1996, paramilitaries enter Coca Cola plant in Carepa, round up all the workers, and force them at gunpoint to renounce their union membership.
- 26 December 1996, Jose Libardo Osorio Herrera, 65, Sinaltrainal activist and Coca Cola worker in Carepa was dragged out of his workplace by heavily armed paramilitaries. His body was found the next day in Chigorodo, Antioquia.
- 8 February 1999, magazine Cambio 16 published an article claiming that Coca Cola had contracted paramilitary groups to sort out their “labour problems”, and that on 15 August 1998, the directors of Coca Cola’s bottling operations had met in Monteria, Cordoba, with a messenger from Carlos Castano, head of the AUC, Colombia’s largest paramilitary group.
- 4 June 2001, all workers at all bottling plants in Colombia are locked in the work places against their will and threatened to renounce their work contracts. Those that do not renounce are fired. The same had happened in February and October 2000. Coca Cola sack more than 1000 workers.
- 21 June 2001, Oscar Dario Soto Polo, Sinaltrainal activist and Coca Cola worker assassinated in Monteria, Cordoba.
One stone against Goliath.
Faced with the complete impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of these crimes, and the necessity that Coca Cola were found responsible for these aggressions, Sinaltrainal has launched a criminal case against Coca Cola before the Southern District Court in Miami, USA, under the Aliens Torts Claim Act of 1789. To carry out this legal prosecution, Sinaltrainal have relied on the support and solidarity of United Steel Workers Union and the International Labour Rights Fund in the USA. In March 2003, after careful consideration of the available evidence, a Miami judge ruled that Coca Cola did have a case to answer, and allowed the case to go ahead.
But in Sinaltrainal’s eyes, the court case alone was not enough. The union also started a process of Popular public Tribunals as am expression of the Colombian peoples’ struggle against State terrorism and the policies of the multinationals. The Tribunals hope to generate a mechanisms for protection and attention to the problems that Sinaltrainal face, as well international accompaniment and solidarity. They hope to link popular and social movements in Colombia, with international movements against globalisation and for social justice.
What are the Popular Public Tribunals?
They are a space for organisation, for denouncing, a forum where social organisations who identify with the struggle against the inhuman greed of multinationals like Coca Cola, can meet and discuss. The Tribunals took place in 3 stages, in Brussels, Atlanta and Bogotá in 2002, but the process is ongoing and aims to:
- Judge and condemn Coca Cola and the Colombian state for the systematic violation of the Human rights of their workers through murder, imprisonment, forced displacement, threats, sackings, violation of national and international agreements, and the polluting of the environment.
- To pressure both Coca Cola and the Colombian state to end their policy of persecution, criminalisation of social protest, and extermination of the workers and trade unions, and to implement the necessary laws in respect to human rights and the environment.
- To plan direct action against Coca Cola in solidarity with Sinaltrainal.
- The Tribunals aim to strengthen the fight against impunity and the construction of the international movement against globalisation.
Finally, the Tribunals hope to coordinate solidarity and action against Coca Cola in all possible countries. All individuals and organisations interested in the campaign against Coca Cola in solidarity with Sinaltrainal and all Colombian workers can contact :
In Colombia: SINALTRAINAL; firstname.lastname@example.org
In UK: Colombia Solidarity Campaign; email@example.com www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk