Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA
Letter to Douglas Daft, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company
25 June 2003
Douglas Daft, CEO
During the conference we are encouraging members of Mennonite Church USA to abstain from all Coca-Cola products as a symbolic refusal to underwrite the killing of Coca-Cola workers.
For over two years our Colombia project, based in Barrancabermeja, has maintained a violence-reduction presence among the civilians living in areas caught between the armed actors of Colombia's civil war. Our people have witnessed paramilitary intimidation of labor and other social activists, including leaders and members of SINALTRAINAL, the union representing Coca-Cola bottling workers in Colombia. CPT workers have literally pulled out of Barranca's river bodies assassinated community leaders and activists. They have observed that threats and killings of church workers, pastors and social justice activists - including Barranca Union leaders at the local Coca-Cola bottling plant - happen with impunity.
Trade unionists at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia, including those at the bottling plant in Barranca, have endured the most egregious human rights violations. These violations include threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. Coca-Cola and its Latin American partner, Panamco, are aware of this violence perpetrated by death squads. In most instances, managers at these Coca-Cola bottling facilities have invited paramilitaries to intimidate and kill workers.
We believe the Coca-Cola Company has the power to stop this violence against workers. Coca-Cola halted the killing of trade union leaders at a Coca-Cola bottling facility in Guatemala in the 1980's. We are asking Coca-Cola to intervene again and stop the violence against workers at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia. We further ask that Coca-Cola negotiate an agreement that will protect workers around the world who produce, package and distribute Coca-Cola products.
We know that Coca-Cola does not directly own these contracted bottlers. Nevertheless, Coca-Cola has partial ownership of 75% of its bottlers in Colombia, with a 24% share in Panamco. The case of the 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 you have no control over the bottling plants. Yet you oversee the strict requirements on beverage ingredients, use of company logos, and standards of employee appearance in these plants. You should be able to guarantee the human rights of these workers as well.
Coca-Cola has described itself as a leader in the field of human rights. On your website you state "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 your headquarters in Colombia and to the Panamco Bottling company, the corporation took no action. You 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 multinational corporations increasingly penetrate the economies of various countries, it is important that these corporations hold themselves 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. Chiquita has chosen to be such a model by signing 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.
We urge the Coca-Cola Company to move quickly to assure that workers in Coca-Cola bottling plants throughout the world enjoy a safe environment as they work to support themselves and their families.
Christian Peacemaker Teams