Dump Coca-Cola
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Shivali Tukdeo  

Coca-Cola sells! 12,500 Coke cans or bottles are consumed every second, and it is "the biggest-selling soft drink in history." No wonder the company's profits mounted up to $15 billion in 2005. But there is rather an ugly side to all the glitter of Coca-Cola, as people in Colombia, India, Turkey, Indonesia and Guatemala would vouch. Their stories show a pattern of human rights abuse, labor rights violations and environmental destruction. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the "real thing" behind Coca-Cola's profits.

Coca-Cola's human and labor rights abuse are most pronounced in Colombia where the paramilitary forces and company management have committed a total of 179 human rights violations against workers who live amidst constant threat and intimidation. Since 1989, eight Coca-Cola employees have been killed, some of them within the factory premises. On December 5, 1996, two paramilitary gunmen burst into Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Carepa, Colombia and fired seven shots at Isidro Gil, the union leader. In the next few hours, the union office was ransacked and burnt down. Two days later, the gunmen returned to the plant, lined up workers, and forced them to sign resignations from the union. Coca-Cola's union-busting tactics are not confined to Colombia alone, for workers in Coke bottling operations in Turkey and Indonesia are also routinely subjected to violence, intimidation and arbitrary termination. [1]

Coca-Cola's mediocre record in India has recently resulted in some well-deserved flak for the company. Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a leading public interest organization in India, notes in its recent research report that, "a cocktail of three to five pesticide residues" was found in all brands of Coca-Cola. Pesticide residues in Coke products turned out to be 24-times higher than the standards proposed by India and the European Union. But pesticide-laden drinks are just a part of Coca-Cola's failings in India. Distribution of toxic waste as fertilizer to the farmers, extraction of millions of gallons of scarce groundwater and trashing out hazardous waste into the fields completes the picture. [2]

Despite worldwide protests against Coke and massive student campaigns on hundred campuses all over the US, the University of Illinois maintains business as usual. [3] Lured by the carrot of contract funding, the university does not mind riding along a criminally liable corporation. And while we are talking about University of Illinois' contract with Coke, let us please leave out the topics of "consumer choice", or "socially responsible business". The "exclusive" contract has made a choice on behalf of us and we are stuck with Coke products on campus. By doing business with Coca-Cola, the university is complicit not only in pushing on us uncut-and-unbridled consumerism, but by protecting corporate interests, the university has altered the purpose of higher education.

Be it the divestment campaigns against apartheid-era South Africa or the more recent anti-sweatshop campaigns [4], universities have often played an important role in promoting democracy and social responsibility. As communities across the globe take on Coca-Cola, risking their lives, jobs and careers, the University of Illinois ought to do its share. Coke out of UIUC!

See the rally organized by the Coalition Against Coke Contracts here.


[1] The New York Fact Finding Delegation on Coca-Cola, consisting of the New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate and community activists traveled to Colombia in 2004 to gain first-hand understanding of the situation. According to the report, "The conclusion that Coca-Cola bears responsibility for the campaign of terror leveled at its workers is unavoidable". The complete report can be found here: http://www.killercoke.org/report.htm

[2] The study found astoundingly high levels of Lindane, Chlorpyrifos, Heptachlor and Malathion in all brands of Coca-Cola. The complete report can be found here:
Owing to the public outrage after the release of this report, seven states in India have declared a ban on Coca-Cola.

[3]Coalition Against Coke Contracts (CACC) has been demanding that the university cut its exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. More information on this group can be found here: http://www.caccuc.blogspot.com

[4] Corporations such as Nike and Reebok have had to change their labor practices, thanks to the anti-sweatshop campaigns in colleges and universities.

First published in Ghadar [http://ghadar.insaf.net]