universal drink, unrespected union rights
The receipe of Coca-Cola is one of the best kept secret in the food processing industry. The American multinational is very attached to the quality of its production everywhere it is produced. But the company does not seem to be that much preoccupied by the working social conditions in its factories and at its subcontractors. The trade unions of the various sites of production launched an international campaign to stop the suppression of their militants and to make Coca-Cola sign a draft agreement. This would guarantee the respect of core labour standards in all the factories working for the multinational. Numerous associations for the defense of social and economic rights have already mobilized in the U.S.A. and everywhere in the world for a very symbolic campaign, which should go on.
On 17th April 2002, on the occasion of Coca-Cola general assembly, a very important step was marked in the international campaign for the respect of Human Rights in the Coca-Cola production sites. The trade unions of the multinational’s employees coming from Colombia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and from the Philippines, have gathered efforts for the shareholders to know about their respective situations.
Javier Correa, general secretary of the National Trade Union of Colombian Food Processing Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL) gave evidence of the violence exerted on several members of its trade union in the past few years. Its organization took civil action in the complaint lodged by several associations and American trade unions against Coca-Cola and its Colombian supplier, Panamco Colombia S.A. This complaint, which cites bad treatments, abductions and murders, should be taken into account very soon; but it provoked in Colombia a new wave of suppression of union activists of the multinational.
José Francisco Argueta de la Cruz, responsible for the Workers’ trade union of Coca-Cola in Guatemala (STECSA), cited the threats posing on his trade union, the great casualization of labour and the heavy pressure on salaries for them to come down.
Within Coca-Cola general assembly, members of religious congregations, solidarity associations(1) and minority shareholders imposed a vote to demand the adoption of a code of conduct, which would guarantee the respect of core labour standards in every Coca-Colaproduction site. There were obviously few votes obtained with this text, but it had an important knock-on effect on making known the situation of Coca-Cola’s employees all over the world.
Coca-Cola : a weak defense
In order to defend itself, the Coca-Cola company underlined that most of the workers who produce and bottle the famous sparkling drink (for which it holds the licence) are not its direct employees: they work for subcontractors. It therefore cannot be responsible for the way these companies treat their staff.
However, the American multinational based in Atlanta, has shares in several of its franchised companies. Besides, the company can make respect the precise specifications to its suppliers about the production process and the “quality” standard of the product. Then there is no reason why it would not be possible to do the same for the production social conditions.
The UITA (International Union of food processing workers, agricultural workers, catering workers and tobacco workers) called on Coca-Cola to negotiate a global draft agreement, which might concern all the societies and subcontractors. Such initiatives do exist: in the food processing industry, Starbucks (one of the leaders in the American coffee industry), adopted such an agreement a while ago. Most recently, the multinational Chiquita, the South American Representative Committee of Banana Workers and UITA did so in the banana sector.
In the declaration made for the 58th session (1) of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, the CISL(2) says about Colombia : “160 union activists were murdered in the year 2001. If we compare this figure to the year before, the number of victims is constantly rising. Let’s not forget that since 1987, more than 3500 Colombian union activists have been violently murdered. And when union activists are not simply murdered, they are threatened with death, or kidnapped, or they disappear. In this last case, most of the bodies are found after few days or few weeks, with abominable marks of torture inflicted before the death. Let’s also notice that there are often a lot of women among these victims”.
Among trade union leaders who were recently murdered, 7 of them were working for the Coca-Cola company.
(1) Session which took place from 18th March to 26th April 2002
(2) Confédération Internationale des Syndicats Libres (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) which gathers a great number of trade unions in the world.
(3) Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsability, Ecumenical Center for the social responsibility of companies.