The Killer Coke Coalition is reaching a critical moment today in its campaign as Michigan Student Assembly votes on whether to support a motion to cut contracts with the Coca-Cola Company.
The Killer Coke Coalition is a growing collaboration of 11 student groups, including La Voz Latina, Amnesty International and Environmental Justice. They are part of a concerted campaign to pressure Coca Cola to amend its business practices which they allege include human rights violations and environmental irresponsibility in underdeveloped countries.
On Friday, the coalition put on a panel called “Verifying the Scrutiny” with three speakers who are involved in the campaign against Coke.
David Kovalik, who spoke at the panel, is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in a court case against Coke which began in 2001.
The plaintiffs claim that many union workers have been killed and injured in Columbia as a result of Coke’s unethical business practices. For instance, Panamco — a company that had exclusive bottling rights to produce and distribute Coke in Latin America — has bottling plants in Colombia where union members claim eight union workers have been killed and many others had been harassed by paramilitaries, which the plaintiffs claim happened under the full knowledge of the bottling plants’ managers.
However, Coke contends that only two murders have taken place in its bottling plants and those victims were unaffiliated with the bottling plants at the time of their deaths.
The plaintiffs claim that union members have been persecuted in Columbia for more than a decade. On Dec. 5, 1996, the plaintiffs said paramilitaries invaded the bottling plant in Carepa, Columbia and killed union leader Isidro Gil and Jose Librado Herrera, a low -level supervisor with trade union sympathies.
Louis Cardoba, who also spoke at the meeting on Friday and worked at the bottling plant in Carepa, said he was kidnapped that day by the paramilitaries, but he said he managed to escape and fled with his family to Miami.
The plaintiffs allege that Coca-Cola had responsibility over the abuse of the workers in Panamco bottling plants because Coca-Cola directly administers its managers, whom the plaintiffs believe were in collaboration with the paramilitaries. The plaintiffs said they intend to back their claims in court with witnesses who have said they have seen the manager pay off paramilitaries.
However, the court said Coke had some control in the realm of the quality of its product, but it was not responsible for the human rights violations.
Amit Srivasta of India Resources, a group that supports movements against globalization in India, also spoke at the event about Coca-Cola’s alleged unethical business practices in India. He said that Coke has caused artificial water shortages in six areas where its bottling plants are present, has poisoned the ground water with toxic metals like mercury, has sold solid waste to farmers laden with cadmium and lead under the guise of fertilizer and Coke products in India have up to 30 percent higher levels of pesticides, including Dichloro-diphenyl-trichlorethane, than in other countries.
Coca-Cola disagrees with the findings. In its opinion, after doing studies through the Central Science Lab. As one of the most respected science labs in the world, Ott said the science lab found that the samples of solid wastes were below Indian standards of lead and cadmium.
“We believe the environmental damage allegations are false,” said Harry Ott, director of global environmental assurance for Coca Cola. “But India’s a democracy. We will obey all laws put into affect,” he added.