Examining coca cola human rights violations in colombia


Bing a trade union member in Colombia is one of the most unsafe businesss in the universe. More union members are killed in Colombia than any other state. The Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, the state ‘s largest trade brotherhood alliance, has lost 4,000 members since its initiation in 1986, including about all of its laminitiss. Seventy-eight were murdered in 2003, and 28 were assassinated in the first five months of 2004. Hundreds more have been threatened, forced into expatriate, displaced from their occupations, attacked, detained, and kidnaped. Rightist paramilitary groups affiliated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia ( AUC ) commit the bulk of slayings, and they target brotherhood leaders disproportionately.

The force of Colombia ‘s decades-long civil war does non explicate the desperate state of affairs faced by Colombian union members. Murdered union members are non the merchandise of indiscriminate, helter-skelter force, nor are they the “ indirect harm ” of civilians caught between warring groups. They are the victims of a deliberate and selective scheme carried out by sectors of the province, allied paramilitaries, and some employers to weaken and extinguish trade brotherhoods. It is a scheme that emerges from, and is facilitated by, permeant impunity. Of the about four 1000 trade union members murdered since 1986, merely five people have been convicted.

That represents a rate of impunity of about 100 per centum. Most of the rights misdemeanors are connected to specific labour struggles, such as work stoppages, protests, and contract dialogues in which selective blackwashs, arbitrary apprehensions, detainments, improper hunts, and anon. menaces serve as tools of labour direction. Targeted and discriminate force has non merely take to the decease, expatriate, and supplanting of 100s of Colombian workers. It has besides contributed to a clime of anti-unionism in which trade brotherhoods are associated with guerilla insurgences and unable to exert their right to liberate association.

Multinational houses profit from the decreased effectivity of trade brotherhoods that arises from the bullying of workers by paramilitaries. Weak unions pose less opposition to occupation cuts, lowered rewards, reduced benefits, and “ flexible ” contracts that are promoted by transnational corporations and that are symbolic of the new, neoliberal economic order.

Yet in some instances multinationals do more than benefit from extra-judicial force: they really organize it. Such is the instance with the Coca-Cola Company, harmonizing to Sinaltrainal ( Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos ) , the nutrient and drink workers ‘ brotherhood that represents Coca-Cola workers in Colombia. On July 21, 200l, Sinaltrainal filed suit against the Coca-Cola Company and two of its Colombian bottlers in U.S. Federal District Court in Miami, bear downing that they collaborated with paramilitaries to slay and terrorise workers.

This study explores the experience of Colombian Coca-Cola workers and their charges against the company and its bottlers.

Violence and Neoliberalism in Colombia

One hundred and eighty Coca-Cola employees have suffered major human rights misdemeanors over the last 15 old ages ; nine have been murdered. Family members have besides experienced menaces, abductions, anguish, and slaying and, in several instances, subsisters continue to endure from post-traumatic emphasis upset. Sinaltrainal has lost about half of its rank because of the force and menaces directed against its affiliates. Membership presently stands at about 1,400 persons and includes labourers in Nestle , Nabisco, and nine other companies of the nutrient and drink industry. The bulk of workers in the industry are non nonionized and work for low rewards under a assortment of impermanent agreements. Union rank nationwide has fallen from 12 per centum of the work force in the mid-1990s to 3.2 per centum today, while official unemployment has about doubled from 10.5 per centum in 1990 to 19.7 per centum today.

The economic roots of the crisis impacting Colombian workers lie in a series of neoliberal “ structural accommodation ” reforms implemented by the authorities to fulfill the loaning demands of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These reforms harmed domestic industry and agribusiness by doing them more vulnerable to competition from powerful planetary corporations, and they wiped out 10s of 1000s of occupations.

New labour statute law eroded workers ‘ right to collective bargaining, opened the door to more “ flexible ” labour agreements in misdemeanor of International Labor Organization criterions, and made unionising a turning figure of impermanent workers about impossible. Then, in 2003, a series of “ anti-terrorist ” statutes farther curtailed labour and civil rights by leting the armed forces to collar and confine people without judicial warrant, therefore legalizing a de facto policy long practiced by the security forces against union members and others alleged to endanger the position quo. Between August 2002 and July 2003, the security forces detained over one hundred 1000 Colombians but ne’er charged them with a offense.

Indefensible detainments may last for months and even old ages in some instances. They undermine the ability of brotherhoods to dispute anti-labor policies, and they associate legitimate protests with terrorist activities and neutralize brotherhood leaders by puting them under the control of the province. Indeed, the rightist authorities of Alvaro Uribe Velez-a strong ally of the Bush administration-demonstrates more willingness to negociate with illegal paramilitary organisations than with legitimate labour brotherhoods, as it seeks a military solution to the challenges posed by two leftist guerilla groups-the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FARC ) and the National Liberation Army ( ELN ) .

Human rights organisations attribute over 75 per centum of the entire human rights misdemeanors committed in the state over the last 15 old ages to the paramilitaries. Because of their links to the Colombian armed forces, paramilitaries are referred to as the “ 6th Division, ” even though the authorities routinely denies the being of any connexion. They have diverse beginnings: some emerged as the private ground forcess of well-known drug sellers, others organized to battle guerillas and protect ranchers in the conflicted Magdalena Medio part, and still others grew out of legal self-defense groups established by President Alvaro Uribe when he was governor of Antioquia state.

Despite their diverse regional associations, the paramilitaries ceased to be local phenomena in 1997, when they federated under the umbrella of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia ( AUC ) . The AUC so began a coordinated run to get the better of the FARC and the ELN and dismantle brotherhoods, peasant organisations, and other civil society groups that it labeled guerilla confederates. It progressively waged a soiled war on behalf of the Colombian ground forces, which faced intensified international force per unit area in the 1990s to clean up its human rights record. The paramilitary-military relationship was based on what Human Rights Watch called a “ scheme of impunity ” in which “ purportedly ‘phantom ‘ paramilitaries that the military claims it can neither place, locate, nor command take the incrimination for slaughters and forced disappearings, leting the military to hedge duty… paramilitaries take the brunt of unfavorable judgment for tactics taught, employed, and support by the armed forces, but which they do non openly endorse ( HRW 1996: 61 ).

It is a relationship that has been nurtured by tremendous sums of military aid from the United States, as Colombia is the 3rd largest receiver of U.S. military assistance in the universe, after Egypt and Israel. As the civil war deepens and the Colombian province embracings neoliberalism, the Coca-Cola Company, which has operated in the state for decennaries, has moved sharply to reconstitute its operations by centralising production and cut downing the figure of workers. Six thousand seven hundred workers lost their occupations between 1992 and 2002. Eighty per centum of the Coca-Cola work force is now composed of non-union, impermanent workers, and rewards for these persons are merely a one-fourth of those earned by their nonionized opposite numbers. Coca-Cola has systematically pressured nonionized workers to vacate, sometimes offering erstwhile payments for those who agree to go forth.

In 2003, it closed eleven of its 16 bottling workss and forced workers to abdicate their brotherhood contracts. Despite corporate bargaining understandings that oblige it to happen new occupations for displaced workers, the company has failed to carry through its duties, motivating a 12-day hungriness work stoppage by Sinaltrainal in March 2004 that, despite paramilitary decease menaces, forced direction to the bargaining tabular array. Workers, nevertheless, are non optimistic. The Vice-Minister of Social Protection, Luz Estela Arango, who is charged with governing on the legality of the works closings and the fires, is a former attorney for the Coca-Cola Company.

It should come as no surprise that Sinaltrainal views the multinational ‘s patterns as portion of an attempt to extinguish the brotherhood and make a fearful, compliant labour force. Coca-Cola is in fact a stridently anti-union company, and the devastation of Sinaltrainal, every bit good as the capacity to drive rewards into the land, is one of the primary ends of the extra-judicial force directed against workers. Sinaltrainal is besides non the first brotherhood to see the company ‘s hardball, anti-labor tactics. Workers in the company ‘s Guatemala City bottling works merely managed to salvage their brotherhood by busying the mill for a twelvemonth, when Guatemala was in the thick of a bloody civil war.

Coca-Cola and Extra-Judicial Violence

The Coca-Cola Company fails to protect workers from paramilitary bullying, and, in some instances, eyewitness histories and abundant circumstantial grounds suggest that it is complicit with paramilitary panic. Sinaltrainal has correlated the cases of most intense force against workers with periods of contract dialogue, and there is testimony from tonss of workers and their households about the force that has affected them straight or that they have witnessed. It is really clear that there is a systematic run to destruct Sinaltrainal ‘s ability to support the laborrights of its components.

The most dramatic illustration of the terrorist act directed against union members is the obliteration, in 1996, of the local brotherhood in the town of Carepa ( Antioquia ) , and the slaying of its president, Isidro Gil, by paramilitaries. Two months prior to the paramilitary onslaught, workers observed the works director, Ariosto Milan Mosquera, run intoing with a paramilitary commanding officer in the company cafeteria. They overheard Milan Mosquera say that the paramilitaries would complete off Sinaltrainal and comment that Dorlahome Tuberquia, a brotherhood leader whom he had fired but who had been reinstated by tribunal order, should go forth the works or endure the effects. Workers so began to have menaces. Sinaltrainal sent letters to both the bottling house, Bebidas y Alimentos, and Coca-Cola of Colombia informing them of the bullying. Yet paramilitaries later took control of the works and forced workers to subscribe letters of surrender from the brotherhood that were written on the company ‘s computing machines.

On December 5, 1996, two paramilitaries siting a high-octane bike circled the works and shooting Isidro Gil, as he prepared to go forth. At the clip, Gil was involved in tense dialogues with the company and had presented it with a proposed contract less than a hebdomad before his slaying. Two hours after his blackwash, another member of the brotherhood ‘s board of directors, Adolfo Cardona, hardly evaded an effort on his life, and that eventide, paramilitaries broke into the brotherhood offices, where they looted files and put fire to the premises.

As fearful members of the brotherhood board of directors tried to go forth town the following twenty-four hours, a company supervisor approached Giraldo and informed him of a meeting called by the paramilitaries in which brotherhood leaders would be given “ another opportunity to maintain working in the mill. ” Those persons who attended were shown a hit list of presumed “ revolutionists ” that included themselves, and they were told that to maintain their occupations, they would hold to stay by the paramilitaries ‘ regulations, which made no allowance for the brotherhood. The paramilitaries occupied the works on the undermentioned twenty-four hours, and Sinaltrainal ceased to be in Carepa.

These events took topographic point as paramilitaries tightened their chokehold on northwest Antioquia state. They arose out of intensifying force against the brotherhood, developing ties between Coca-Cola direction and the paramilitaries, and permeant impunity. In 1994, two old ages prior to Isidro Gil ‘s slaying, paramilitaries killed Jose Eleazar Manco, a long-time Coca-Cola worker and rank-and-file union member who refused to retire, and they dumped his anguished organic structure in the graveyard. Then, in 1995, the paramilitaries murdered Oscar Giraldo ‘s brother, Luis

Enrique, for his engagement on the brotherhood board of directors. The full brotherhood leading was displaced three months subsequently because of relentless decease menaces. Workers later organized a new board of directors, which was in topographic point less than a twelvemonth before it, excessively, was displaced in the aftermath of Gil ‘s blackwash.

To day of the month, no 1 has been convicted of the slayings or the devastation of the brotherhood, and Coca-Cola systematically denies any duty for the offenses. Giraldo explained how, in the wake of the 1996 paramilitary onslaught, displaced Carepa leaders regrouped in Bogota and lodged a ailment with the Ministry of Labor. They so met with a company representative in the ministry ‘s offices, where, Giraldo said, they were told that “ the paramilitaries have control of the works… and that we would non acquire anything from them… [ she told us that ] if we wished, we could travel to Carepa and speak to them personally. ” Unable to return because of menaces to their lives, brotherhood leaders later lost their occupations for “ abandoning their topographic point of work. ”

Like other displaced union members, Giraldo has non been able to happen stable employment. He earns a life in Colombia ‘s turning informal economic system, where he finds impermanent building occupations, but his household frequently does non hold plenty to eat. And even though eight old ages have passed since the events in Carepa, he does non experience safe. Paramilitaries abducted Giraldo in 2001, shortly after Sinaltrainal filed its case against Coca-Cola in the United States. His kidnappers threatened to kill him if he did non uncover the whereabouts of other displaced Coca-Cola union members from Carepa. Although he was finally released, Giraldo is a cardinal informant to the slaying of Isidro Gil, the attempted blackwash of Adolfo Cardona, and the decimation of the local brotherhood, and he remains under menace.

While the Carepa instance dramatizes the dangers faced by Colombian Coca-Cola workers and the collusion of the Coca-Cola Company with an illegal armed organisation, it is by no means a alone illustration. There are literally tonss of instances of more recent menaces against Coca-Cola labourers in several Colombian metropoliss. On October 2, 2002, for illustration, union members staged a protest at the entry to the mill in the metropolis of Barrancabermeja, and subsequently the same twenty-four hours, the vice-president of the Sinaltrainal local, Juan Carlos Galvis, saw two paramilitaries speaking with direction employees Reynaldo Gonzalez and Martha Yaneth Orduz. When he approached Gonzalez and asked if “ they [ direction ] still said that they do n’t speak with paramilitaries, ” Gonzalez acknowledged that the work forces were paramilitaries. He told Galvis that they were clients, and that he should take his ailment to them. Galvis, who is besides president of the local chapter of the CUT, has received legion decease menaces and narrowly escaped an blackwash effort in August 2003.

Arbitrary apprehensions and imprisonment are besides tactics used against the brotherhood leading. In the metropolis of Bucaramanga, in 1996, the direction of the local Coca-Cola bottler- Coca-Cola Embotelladora Santander-falsely accused Luis Eduardo Garcia, Alfaro Gonzalez, Domingo Flores, Luis Javier Correa, and Alexander Lopez of seting a bomb in the Bucaramanga works, after the decision of a 5-day work stoppage to protest the riddance of employee medical insurance. Garcia, Gonzalez, and Flores were arrested and imprisoned for six months, until the prosecuting officer decided that there was ne’er a bomb in the works, as the company claimed, and released them.

During their ordeal, the company refused to pay the work forces ‘s rewards, and households were thrown into an economic crisis. Garcia maintains that his family-and particularly his girl who was merely 8-years old in 1996-has still non recovered. “ Two of my kids were really immature, ” he explains. “ My girl had to be taken out of school because her small friends did non understand what was go oning to me. They told her that her male parent was a terrorist, a condemnable, and an bravo. She still suffers whenever she sees soldiers or police officers, because she thinks that they are coming to take her or one of us, and she ca n’t kip at dark if I am non place. ” Because of changeless torment, the household has moved to a new, more unafraid location and disconnected the telephone.

The leaders of the Coca-Cola workers are an surprisingly retentive and dedicated group of persons, and hushing them is non easy. Although some presently benefit from a limited, state-sponsored protection plan, their households remain vulnerable. Not surprisingly, many household members have been targeted as portion of a scheme to intimidate and hush labour leaders.

One of the most atrocious narratives was that of Limberto Carranza, a brotherhood leader from Barranquilla, whose 15-year old boy, Jose David, was kidnapped and tortured in September 2003, when brotherhood leaders were in a battle with the company over plans to shut several workss and enforce an “ early retirement ” program on workers. The male child was abducted as he rode place from school on a bike. The kidnapers beat and tortured him and stated that his male parent was on a list of persons whom they planned to slay. At the same clip, Limberto Carranza received a phone call in which an person said “ unionist son-of-a-bitch, we are traveling to kill you… and if we ca n’t acquire you, we will kill your household. ” The psychological effects of these onslaughts are lay waste toing to both persons and households.

Other onslaughts on the households of brotherhood leaders include: 1 ) June 2002: In Barrancabermeja, three work forces tried to nobble the four-year old girl of brotherhood president William Mendoza but were stopped by her female parent, who held on to the kid and attracted public attending with her shrieks. Afterwards, Mendoza received a phone call from the local paramilitary commanding officer who told him to halt speaking against Coca-Cola and the paramilitaries and threatened his household with more onslaughts. 2 ) December 2003: In Bucaramanga, two work forces harassed the adolescent boy of national Sinaltrainal president Luis Javier Correa as he came place from school. Correa ‘s married woman has besides been threatened in the yesteryear. 3 ) December 2002: In Bucaramanga, the boy of Luis Eduardo Garcia was followed and assaulted by presumed paramilitaries, and 4 ) March 2003: In Barrancabermeja, the brother-in-law of Sinaltrainal vice-president Juan Carlos Galvis was murdered by presumed paramilitaries.

Coca-Cola systematically rejects accusals that it has any engagement with the AUC. Yet in add-on to workers ‘ allegations, the well-thought-of Colombian intelligence magazine Cambio published, in 1999, a narrative in which it described a meeting between executives of Panamco-a bottler of Coca-Cola -and AUC leader Carlos Casta_o and his lieutenant, Ramon Isaza, who commanded the AUC in the Middle Magdalena part. The meeting took topographic point in the metropolis of Monteria-a centre of Colombian paramilitarism- , where Casta_o allegedly mediated a difference between Panamco and Isaza over the distribution of the soft drink in the Middle Magdalena, where Barrancabermeja is located.

Although the Coca-Cola Company acknowledges that its Colombian workers have been murdered and terrorized, direction claims that it is non apt for actions that occurred at bottling workss. Bottlers, it argues, are non owned by the Coca-Cola Company, which hence can non command what happens in the workss. These averments are challenged by Coca-Cola workers and their attorneies who note that the parent company regulates all facets of production and distribution of the soft drink in Colombia. Indeed, farm outing is an progressively of import corporate scheme to screen houses from legal duty for labour dealingss.

The company ‘s denial of any blameworthiness would possibly be more believable if it acted smartly to protect the lives of its workers. Allegations that the company is complicit in the panic waged against its employees are nurtured by its legal revenge against brotherhood leaders. For illustration, the company charged some of the complainants in the U.S. case with slander and calumny, although the charges were later dismissed by the Colombian prosecuting officer as missing virtue. After the case was filed in Miami, the direction of the Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia besides gathered workers together at workss around the state and urged them to reject the complainants ‘ demands. In Washington, attorneies at the International Labor Rights Fund, the organisation that brought the suit on behalf of the Colombian workers, received a faxed menace from the AUC.

Time line of important developments in the issue

At the beginning of 2005, The Coca-Cola Company created the new station of ‘Head of Labour Relations ‘ based at the planetary central office in Atlanta. The station was filled by Ed Potter.

In March 2005, The Coca-Cola Company informed NUS Services of a new pilot appraisal procedure associating to workplace criterions in bottlers. The pilot appraisal procedure will get down in 2005 at different bottler locations, including states in Africa, North America, Europe and South America. The appraisals will be carried out by an independent company and will measure current workplace patterns including rewards and hours, installation security, freedom of association, corporate bargaining, and wellness and safety steps.

In April 2005, NUS Services learnt that The Coca-Cola Company and the IUF had signed a joint statement that includes formalization of the right of all Coca-Cola workers to fall in a brotherhood without force per unit area or intervention, and a committedness to go oning twice -yearly meetings to reexamine the exercising of trade brotherhood rights by Coca-Cola workers worldwide. This papers constitutes the first common papers signed by both Coca-Cola and the IUF.

On 26 April 2005, the Coca-Cola Foundation announced the contribution of $ 10 million to back up the new ‘Colombian Foundation for Education and Opportunity ‘ . Its map will be to work with non-governmental groups to supply instruction and other chances for those affected by force in Colombia.

On 11 May 2005, the Company informed NUS Services that it was looking to make a ‘Student Working Group ‘ in the United States to supply a forum for inclusionary treatments with representative of pupil administrations. In October 2005, the pupil contingent of the group withdrew from the procedure through a public missive mentioning that the Company had refused to collaborate on an independent committee into the Colombian allegations, and new allegations of human rights misdemeanors from Turkey and Indonesia.

On 19 January 2006, in an unfastened missive to the undermentioned statement to the University of Michigan ‘s Board of Regents, The Coca-Cola Company announced that it would be: ‘facilitating the design and development of a believable, nonsubjective and impartial independent 3rd party appraisal in Colombia during the first one-fourth of 2006. The appraisal will affect international labor organisations, non-governmental organisations and our most vocal critics. It will be conducted with the cooperation ‘ .

On 02 March 2006, the IUF released a statement denoting that The Coca- Cola Company had agreed to jointly bespeak the United Nations, through its International Labour Organisation ( ILO ) , to carry on an independent probe into the alleged linked human rights misdemeanors in Colombia.

On 29 September 2006, Judge Martinez dismissed all staying instances against the two Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia. On 05 October 2006, the tribunal denied a gesture by the complainants to amend the ailments to convey The Coca-Cola Company back into the case and directed the clerk to shut the instances.

On 22 July 2008 NUS Services learnt that the ILO probe had taken topographic point between 01 and 11 July 2008 and that the study was expected to be released on 15 September 2008. It is understood that the probe focused on current patterns instead than the historic issues.

On 08 October 2008 the ILO released its study.

On 05 November 2008 the Ethical and Environmental Committee released a statement on the ILO study saying that it welcome med it but that it is of limited value because it did non turn to the historic issues.


To carry through all of the ethical duties, MNCs such as Coca Cola must prosecute utilizing constructive battle and embrace authorities ordinance that will protect employees “ basic human rights ” .A These duties must be considered by a MNC before make up one’s minding to come in a country.A It is the duty of MNCs to see states for their labour supply, because if executed decently, it will make more stockholder value.A While executing the duty of the MNCs to do money for its shareholders, these ethical duties ca n’t be overlooked merely to do a higher net income.

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