Article from Issue One
Article from Issue One
Love me love me, say that you love me. Coke-a-cola, an empire built on an image of popularity. Existing in more countries worldwide than the UN has presence.
This global power may seem and even taste sweet, but we have some news for you.
Not an easy one to stomach, the truth about our friend Coca-Cola does leave a bad taste in your mouth. Contemplating the amount of times we have consumed it and its availability from train stations to children’s birthday parties, this dark concoction contains some very dark secrets.
We’re not going to bore you with facts about the level of nutritional value, we are all grown adults and know the damage a sugary drink can cause us. What we have to share with you is unfortunately a lot more sickening than the artificial sweeteners that we all know we are consuming.
Columbia, Mexico, India, Turkey, Russia…
lets take a trip around the world…
Columbia 1996, SINALTRAINAL (National Union of Food Industry Workers) discovered that Isidro Gill, one of their members and an employee of a Coca-cola bottling plant, was killed. Gill, like many of his fellow workers, joined the union to fight for workers rights and better conditions. He was a father of two and was murdered by the Columbian Paramilitary.
The day after his death, the paramilitaries returned and were aloud to enter the Coca-cola plant to round up all the workers that were members of the union. They were told that if they did not resign by 4pm that day, that they too would be killed. Resignation forms were all prepared by the Coca-cola plant manager who, according to the workers, had a strong history of socialising and collaborating with paramilitaries and had previously given them an order to dismantle the union. Fearing for their lives, the union members resigned in mass. Each resignation letter was identical – all written by Coca-cola management.
What was the incentive of busting the union, and how do paramilitaries tie in with our friend Coca-cola?
The sad truth behind the actions was money, money, money! Unionised workers at the plant were paid $380US a month while non-union workers made only $130US a month.
In 2008 a member of The Vagabond team spent some time in the Philippines and Brazil and learned of similar situations with other companies operating there.
‘Big business from the wealthy nations is welcomed by governments in poorer ones, not necessarily because it will benefit the country or the economy. In fact, in most cases they do the opposite, wiping out local brands, offering cheap salaries to local workers and then taking the profits back home to their countries. Many governments, like the government of the Philippines, support and protect international companies because they are given party contributions, or personal handouts under the table. This means that the government will protect foreign business interests and can do that very effectively through military fear tactics. This allows companies to keep costs low, labour cheap and profits high’ the Vagabond member said.
‘In our countries we have so many laws and regulations protecting us, but this does not always exist in other countries. It is only fair that we take responsibility for the way our companies act outside of our borders and demand that they clean up their act. By buying their products or services we are supporting them and their crimes’ he added.
SINALTRAINAL lost eight more union leaders to the paramilitary who were all workers at Coca-cola bottling plants in Columbia. Many other union members and their families have shared stories of military abuse, kidnapping, torture and threats, and reports of union offices being set on fire have been made.
Lesley Gill, a professor of anthropology at American University says that these days companies have forced union numbers in Columbia down to an all time low.
‘80 percent of the Coca-cola workforce is now composed of non-union temporary workers and wages of these individuals are only a quarter of those earned by their unionised counterparts. … Murdered unionists in Columbia are not the product of indiscriminate chaotic violence, they are the victims of a calculated and selective strategy carried out by sectors of the state, allied paramilitaries and some employers to weaken the liberty of trade unions’ she said.
‘Coca-cola is in fact an anti union company and the destruction of SINATRAINAL as well as the capacity to drive wages into the ground is one of the primary goals of the extrajudicial violence directed against workers’ she added.
next stop India!
According to the international campaign started by the ‘India Resource Centre’ and credited by The Wall Street Journal, communities living around Coca-cola’s bottling plants in India are experiencing severe water shortages. This is proven to be a direct result of Coca-cola’s over-extraction of groundwater. A government study conducted by the Central Ground Water Board in the desert state of Rajasthan found the ground water levels had dropped ten meters in just five years since the company started operations. The report stated that the company was responsible for ‘ecological imbalances’ and that 50 villages were experiencing water shortage in the surrounding area to that one plant. In 2004, Coca-cola used 283 billion litres of water worldwide – enough to meet the world’s drinking needs for 10 days! Converting two thirds of the fresh water it used into wastewater globally.
In 2003, a BBC study found Coca-cola plants were generating large amounts of toxic waste. In violation of Indian laws, the waste was not being classified and handled as hazardous. Until recently, the company was instead reported to be distributing its toxic waste to local farmers as ‘fertilizer‘. Mr Sunil Gupta, Vice-President of Coca-Cola India, said local farmers had been grateful for the fertiliser because many could not afford brand-name products of their own.
“It’s good for crops,” he said. “It’s good for the farmers because most of them are poor and they have been using this for the past three years” he said in a BBC interview. “We have scientific evidence to prove it is absolutely safe and we have never had any complaints” he added.
According to the study though, not only was the waste killing local crops, the major concern was the presence of lead, which scientists expected would see an increase in miscarriages, stillbirths and premature deliveries and possible retardation and severe anaemia of local children.
In 2003 and again in 2006, studies found that Coca-cola products in India contained dangerously high levels of pesticides, including DDT, lindane and malathion. On average, the pesticide residues were twenty four times higher than European Union standards.
The rural communities in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh, struggle further still, as local and state officials turn a blind eye to community concerns about Coca-cola. According to the India Resource Centre, the local movement to shut down the Coca-Cola plant in this area has been growing rapidly in the past few years. In 2003, community members entered the office of the Regional Pollution Control Board in Varanasi, and protested their inaction by dumping sacks full of sludge from the Coca-Cola plant on the table of the regional officer. A demonstration where over 500 people marched to the factory gates resulted in physical attacks by police and private security guards. Hundreds more have participated in cross-country marches and hunger strikes to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, for this region, the authorities have chosen not to cooperate with the communities. Instead, they have worked with Coca-cola to tighten criminal charges against some of the key leaders of the struggle, issuing orders preventing them from shouting slogans or making inflammatory speeches within 300 meters of the plant.
The Vagabond met with Amit Srivastava, Coordinator of the India Resource Centre and head of the ‘Campaign To Hold Coca-cola Accountable’ in India, at the World Social Forum in Brazil earlier this year. Srivastava said that thousands of farmers in India have been affected by Coca-Cola’s practices.
‘In a country where over 70% of the population makes a living related to agriculture, stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil is a sure recipe for disaster. Coca-Cola is guilty of destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in India’ he said.
“The irony is that most of the impacted community members, who are facing the brunt of the water shortages and pollution, are unable to afford Coca-cola” he added.
on we go
A report produced by British NGO ‘War On Want’ details how Coca-Cola is also having a devastating impact on water resources elsewhere. In El Salvador, the company has been accused of exhausting water resources over a 25-year period. In Chiapas (Mexico), Coca-Cola is positioning itself to take control of the water resources. The Mexican government under President Vicente Fox – himself a former President of Coca-Cola Mexico – has given the company concessions to exploit community water resources.
Guatemalan workers have been struggling against Coca-Cola since the 1970s. In the years between 1976 and 1985, three general secretaries of the main union were assassinated and members of their families, friends and legal advisers were threatened, arrested, kidnapped, shot, tortured and forced into exile. The violations of workers’ rights continue and unionised Coca-Cola workers and their families have reportedly been subjected to death threats.
Elsewhere in countries such as Peru, Russia and Chile, Coca-Cola workers have been protesting against the company’s anti-union policies. Coca-Cola is being sued on behalf of transport workers and their families for its part in the alleged intimidation and torture of trade unionists and their families by special branch police in Turkey. In Nicaragua, workers of the main Coca-Cola union SUTEC have been denied the right to organise and the General Secretary of SUTEC, Daniel Reyes believes that the objective of this ongoing and escalating campaign is to crush the union.
some good news please!!!
Ok, ok, that was a lot to take in. Especially if this is all news to you. Lets now take a look at what’s been achieved by the inspiring and brave individuals that have been voicing their stories and demanding change.
Back to India. Tens of thousands of villagers across the country have mobilised in protest. Due to their efforts, the single largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in India, in Plachimada, Kerala, was shut down in March 2004 and the local panchayat (village council) refused to re-issue its licence. Coca-Cola, in typical fashion, has chosen to undermine democracy by appealing to the courts that the panchayat has no jurisdiction over the plant, and that it should be the state of Kerala that makes the decision. Coca-Cola’s efforts to undermine local governance is being followed closely as the court ruling in favour of the panchayat could set a significant precedence for local governance. The people of Plachimada have had the longest-running struggle against Coca-Cola in India and there has been a 24/7 vigil directly in front of the factory gates since April 22, 2002. In December 2003, the High court, in an extremely significant decision, ruled that Coca-cola had to seek alternative sources of water and that it could extract only as much water from the common groundwater resource as a farmer owning 34 acres of land could. The justification being that the plant is located on 34 acres. Furthermore, the court held that the groundwater belonged to the people and the Government had no right to allow a private party to extract such a huge quantity of ground water.
In another significant action, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB), acting upon a Supreme court order, directed the Coca-Cola company to ensure that a clean water supply is delivered through pipeline to the houses of all the affected communities in the vicinity. Then in 2008, after years of local protest, the plant in Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh was also brought to closure.
Thanks to the dedicated work of the killercoke.org campaign, that has a strong focus on the SINATRAILAL victims in Columbia, over 50 schools and universities across Europe, the US and Canada have terminated major contracts with Coca-cola and over 220 are actively campaigning against the company. In 2001 and 2006, with the help of this campaign lawsuits were filled in the United States against Coca-cola by the International Labour Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers Union on behalf of SINATRAILAL victims.
Whenever there is fun there’s always Coca-cola, … doesn‘t real ring true ‘ey Coke?
Even with all the obvious known health risks and zero nutritional value, the company has continued to grow. A major reason for that is their manner of marketing. From cute and cuddly to sexy and cool, their advertising covers all angles. These days with environmental concerns being on the rise, they have even adopted the ’green’ angle. However it has been proven that they are great at getting what they want without actually doing what they should. Numerous awards have been handed to them such as the prestigious “Golden Peacock Environment Management Award” from the World Environment Foundation.
Funny thing is, that the World Environment Foundation has one financial sponsor and that financial sponsor has a seat on the Executive Council of the Institute of Directors. Can you guess who the sponsor is??
There is also the award from the AD Council, who receives more than one hundred and fifty thousand US dollars in contributions from a member of their ‘President’s Circle’, the same not-so-mysterious supporter mentioned above is of course…
But that just the surface of a deceit that runs much deeper. After the mass-media inside India brought on findings that Coca-cola was responsible for ground water depletion, the company implemented an assessment of water resource management practices in their bottling plants throughout India. They sourced a group called (TERI) The Energy Resources Institute who is described by Coke as a highly respected non-profit organisation that would develop an ‘independent third party assessment’. However, TERI was being funded for at least two other current projects by Coca-cola, who was also a corporate sponsor and had a governing council member of TERI on their Advisory Board for Coca-cola India.
During the pesticides uproar in India, which resulted in the ban of Coke in seven states and the Indian Parliament not permitting it in their cafeterias, the company decided to have secondary tests done through The Central Science Laboratory of India. No residue of the four pesticides found in the first Government study were found in the secondary tests, which Coca-cola advertised strongly countrywide. It was later uncovered by the BBC that the scientists only tested samples of Coca-cola products that were provided by The Coca-Cola Company.
Then of course there is the local deception here in Australia. Coca-Cola has been ordered to publish corrective advertisements over its controversial ‘Motherhood & Myth-Busting’ advertising campaign featuring actor Kerry Armstrong which came under widespread attack last year.
Using the wholesome motherly image of Armstrong to convince parents the soft drink was ‘kiddy-safe‘, the advertisements claimed that Coca-Cola did not make children fat, did not rot their teeth and was not packed with large amounts of caffeine. The actor’s young children may have been convinced by the performance, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was not, forcing Coke to print a nationwide retraction.
Ray Rogers from the killercoke.org campaign sums it up well.
‘The world of Coca-cola if you haven’t figured it out by now, is a world of lies, deception, immorality, corruption and major labour, human rights and environmental abuses’ he said.
but what to do?
This is such a huge-scale problem, and I’m only small. True. But the answer is ever so simple. It’s what all the campaigns are asking you to do, and its something you already have control over. It’s what you buy! Every time you purchase something you support a company. Now that you know what really goes on, turn your back on companies like Coke and their products and choose one of the many other delicious options available. A lot of the time it costs you less and if you buy locally you will be cutting down on travel emissions. Yeah!
Don’t be scared of what you don’t know. Use what you DO know each day and feel good about it!
Rogers advises, ‘When you think of the Coca-cola company you should think of a company that has inflicted great hardship on many people and communities throughout the world. When consumers see Coca-cola beverages and advertising they should think of corporate misconduct so unthinkable that’s its products become undrinkable until this company cleans up its act‘.
Coke – far from refreshing,
instead leaves you in need of a drink!
Like to know where we got our information from? Have a read through some of the many articles in the Coca-Cola section of Learn More Issue 1