FAQs about CPT's "Walk of Conscience" to the World of Coca-Cola
What is the purpose of the prayer vigils at World of Coca-Cola and abstaining from Coca-Cola products during the convention?
Some managers at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia have used AUC paramilitaries1 (see below) to intimidate and murder employees trying to organize unions. Christian Peacemaker Teams feels a special connection to this issue because the work of its team in Colombia has included identifying and retrieving bodies, including the bodies of friends, whom AUC death squads murdered.
When employees asked Coca-Cola headquarters to exert some control over the bottling plants and provide security for their workers, the company refused to take action. CPT believes that the prayerful attention of Mennonites to the human rights of Colombian Coca-Cola employees may help Coca-Cola to value the lives of these employees more.
Why would bottling plants use paramilitaries to kill their own workers?
Making employees too afraid to join a union allows managers to pay these employees less and ignore requests for improved working conditions.
Given that thousands of human rights violations happen every year in Colombia, why are CPT and other human rights organizations focusing on Coca-Cola?
Coca-Cola has described itself as a leader in the field of human rights. On its website it claims, "We will continually operate as model business citizens, consistently shaping our business decisions to improve the quality of life in communities where we do business."
Furthermore, Coca-Cola has endorsed the Global Sullivan Principles which include commitments to express support for the human rights of employees, respect employees' voluntary freedom of association and promote application of these principles "by those with whom we do business."
However, when Coca-Cola employees appealed to its headquarters in Colombia and to the Panamco Bottling company - Coca-Cola's primary bottling contractor - the corporations took no action. Coca-Cola waited five years to begin an investigation into the murder and intimidation of employees at a bottling plant in Carepa, Colombia in 1996 and did not do so until workers filed a lawsuit against the company in 2001.
As the economies of various countries become more and more controlled by multinational corporations, it is important to hold these corporations accountable for the human rights of their workers. Coca-Cola could choose to be a model for other multinational corporations in the way it respects the human rights of its workers. For example, Chiquita has chosen to sign a contract with various unions promising that it will hold its suppliers, growers and joint venture partners accountable for the way they treat their workers.
What good will it do to challenge Coca-Cola and abstain from Coca-Cola products?
When several union leaders were killed by paramilitaries in Guatemala in the 1980s, Coca-Cola eventually responded to an international campaign focusing on the company's tolerance of labor rights abuses. The corporation severed its ties with the franchise holder, installed a new bottler and the human rights situation for Guatemalan workers greatly improved.
Coca-Cola doesn't own the bottling plants. Is it fair to ask Coca-Cola to control the behavior of the bottlers?
Yes. Coca-Cola has partial ownership of 75% of its bottlers in Colombia, with a 24% share in Panamco, also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The case of Guatemalan bottling plants illustrates that Coca-Cola has the power to cut ties with immoral business partners, improve human rights and make a profit. Currently Coca-Cola says the Guatemalan situation cannot be extrapolated to Colombia, and that they have no control over the bottling plants. Yet Coca-Cola does oversee strict requirements on beverage ingredients, use of company logos, and standards of employee appearance. It should be able to oversee the human rights of its workers as well.
I often feel uncomfortable when I hear the rhetoric of labor unions. Why should we support unions anywhere, let alone Colombia?
Jesus said "Whatever you do to the least of these you do also to me." (Matt. 25:40) Manufacturing employees in Colombia work long hours for little pay. Their lives and their safety mean little to the manufacturers employing them. They thus qualify as "the least of these." Even if the practices of labor unions in the United States make many Mennonites uncomfortable, we should be able to agree at a basic level that no one deserves to be tortured, killed or threatened for asking manufacturers to treat workers with respect.
Have you contacted Coca-Cola management about your concerns?
Although the purpose of the prayer vigil is to honor Coca-Cola bottling plant employees murdered for their beliefs, rather than confronting Coca-Cola executives, CPT has sent a letter to the CEO of Coca-Cola that includes much of the material in this FAQ sheet. Many other organizations have contacted Coca-Cola, including the labor unions whose workers have been assassinated. Coca-Cola management insists that it is not responsible and cannot influence the situation. We believe Coca-Cola can. People who wish to be a part of ongoing efforts to speak to Coca-Cola executives about the threat to workers in their bottling plants should contact CPT staff at its booth in the convention center. Contact Coca-Cola at the address below.
Aren't we being bad guests by criticizing Coca-Cola in its hometown?
Atlanta has many things to be proud of. Since its role as a center for the American Civil Rights movement, the level of racial diversity and integration it has achieved should be the envy of many cities above the Mason-Dixon line. We choose to honor this spirit of justice and reconciliation instead of corporate culture. Additionally, many residents of Atlanta - such as the Open Door Community and Witness for Peace - are also concerned about Coca-Cola labor practices and have welcomed participants in this convention to speak out for the human rights of Colombian workers.
Is this public witness part of a boycott?
SINALTRAINAL, one of the major Coca-Cola labor unions, is calling all who care about human rights to begin abstaining from Coca-Cola products (see list below) on July 22. CPT is asking that its constituents not use Coca-Cola products during the convention and welcomes advice on how we might encourage supporters to participate in a boycott.
What good is a prayer vigil?
A prayer vigil brings the search for truth into the public place. Prayer vigils are not times to show off one's spirituality. Jesus condemned such pretentious spirituality. A prayer vigil simply tries to connect with the word of God in a public place and represent the truth in a symbolic way. The truth may itself be very sharp and divisive, depending upon the situation. A true prayer vigil touches people's hearts. Each person who participates, observes or interprets the event is touched in a different way.
Much of the information for this list of questions comes from a human rights report, Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights: Coca-Cola in Colombia, written by a delegation to Colombia from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Copies are available from CPT. A $3.00 donation will help cover photocopying and postage expenses.
Barq's (Root Beer & Cream Soda)
Coca-Cola (all varieties)
Dasani & Evian water
Minute Maid, Hi-C,
Fruitopia & Odwalla juices
Douglas Daft, CEO
The Coca-Cola Company
One Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta, GA 30313
1 The AUC, the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia, is the largest right-wing Colombian paramilitary group. Functioning as organized crime outside the law, it routinely threatens and kills organizers who it believes support a leftist agenda. Businesses and large landowners often use the AUC to further their interests, and collaboration between the AUC and the Colombian military is well-documented.
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508; Chicago IL 60680
Tel: 773-277-0253; Fax: 773-277-0291
; web: www.cpt.org