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IUF Coca-Cola Affiliates Reject Call for a global Coca-Cola boycott

Posted to the IUF website 15-Jul-2003

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Following concerns expressed by a number of IUF affiliates representing Coca-Cola workers worldwide, the IUF has decided to respond to the current campaign calling for an "international consumer boycott" of Coca-Cola beginning July 22.

Click here to see the boycott call (International Boycott Against Coca Cola" in full in PDF

Sweeping, unsubstantiated allegations and assertions of the type found in the boycott appeal do nothing to help the cause of the unions that organize and represent Coca-Cola workers around the world, the majority of which are members of the IUF. The call for a boycott of Coca-Cola was unanimously rejected at the recent IUF global meeting that included over 27 IUF-affiliated organizations from 23 countries representing more than 100 Coca-Cola workers' trade unions around the world.
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New York, March 3-4, 2003
IUF COCA-COLA UNIONS REJECT CALL FOR A GLOBAL COCA-COLA BOYCOTT


The IUF Global Coca-Cola Meeting (New York City, March 3-4, 2003) bringing together 27 representative organizations (representing over 100 unions in the Coca-Cola system) from 23 countries throughout Coca-Cola’s global operations, strongly condemns the call (dated 3 March 2003) for a global company boycott issued by the Colombian union SINALTRAINAL. The demands contained in the boycott declaration, which contain an implicit call for the boycott of all transnational companies operating in Colombia, do not reflect the concerns of Colombian Coca-Cola workers or the views of the broader Colombian and international labour movements. The boycott call is based on unsubstantiated allegations and empty political slogans. This call for a boycott will damage, rather than strengthen, the credibility of all those seeking to secure union rights for all employees in the Coca-Cola system.

Coca-Cola workers internationally and their unions, through the IUF, are committed to, and organizing for, guaranteed minimum rights for all workers throughout the global Coca-Cola system. We do not recognize the SINALTRAINAL call for a boycott as helpful in any way to our efforts in this regard. We therefore call upon those wishing to advance worker rights within the Coca-Cola system to reject this call for a global boycott and to work together with the IUF and its international membership within the Coca-Cola system.

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The overwhelming majority of unions representing Coca-Cola workers, including those in Coke's largest market, the USA, do not support the boycott call.

The IUF finds statements about Coca-Cola in the boycott call like "For the benefits they obtain from the assassination, imprisonment, displacement, kidnapping, threatening, and firing of union leaders in Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, the United States, Venezuela, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, as well as in other parts of the world" misleading and inaccurate. The IUF is not aware of complaints of this kind from our affiliates who represent Coca-Cola workers in many of the countries mentioned. In the case of Iran there are no "union leaders" because there are no unions and as far as we are aware there is no Coca-Cola production.

Of the eight Colombia murders attributed to Coca-Cola, five were of workers at the Carepa plant in Urabá province in the years 1994 through 1996. The best documented case is the killing of union leader Isidro Segundo Gil by paramilitaries on 5 December 1996, which was followed by the forced resignation and flight of other union activists. No details have been provided about one of the other murders attributed to Coca-Cola, which took place in 1989. Oscar Dario Soto, a local president of the SINALTRAINBEC union, was assassinated on 22 June 2001 by unknown assailants (for more information click here). Adolfo de Jesus Munera, a regional CUT official and former Coca-Cola worker, was assassinated on 31 August 2002 (for more information click here). We have seen no evidence linking either of these killings to Coca-Cola. The IUF vigorously protested both assassinations to the Colombian government and requested its affiliates to do likewise.

The IUF and its affiliates have consistently protested the Colombian government's failure to provide protection to all union leaders and activists who request it, and will continue to hold the Colombian government principally responsible. We welcome and have always called for a full investigation of these crimes and vigorous prosecution of the perpetrators and those responsible for their actions. Impunity in Colombia must end.

The bottler running the Carepa plant changed its plant management in 1997. Workers at that plant are now represented by a trade union, which has succeeded in negotiating important gains for workers there. These gains were achieved by determined organizing and tough bargaining in a very difficult environment, with the support of the IUF.

The reference in several versions of the boycott call to the Guatemala situation in the 1980's is historically inaccurate. Whilst there was some effort at launching consumer boycotts supported by the IUF's affiliates on that occasion, it was principally action within and around Coca-Cola plants throughout the world organized by IUF affiliates in support of our affiliate STECSA in Guatemala that ultimately forced Coca-Cola into meetings with the IUF and STECSA in Mexico City and Costa Rica. Through this process, an agreement was finally negotiated that led to the change in the franchise holder and a resolution of the repressive situation STECSA had faced in the Guatemala City plant.

Boycott supporters claim to be acting in support of a case launched in US courts against The Coca-Cola Company and its Colombian bottlers. They fail to mention that a recent decision by a US court in relation to this case ruled that neither The Coca-Cola Company itself nor its Colombian subsidiary carries any responsibility for the employment practices of Coca-Cola anchor bottler companies or franchise holders. If this stands, it represents a significant setback for those seeking to defend and advance human and trade union rights within the broader Coca-Cola system by pressuring Coca-Cola to accept some measure of responsibility for industrial relations in anchor bottlers and franchise holders. This was the key issue at the heart of our victory in Guatemala in the 1980's. This court decision is not helpful to our ongoing campaign, but we are determined to overcome this obstacle through serious organizing and engagement.

Our record of struggle at Coca-Cola, and our commitment to trade union rights within the Coca-Cola system, is a matter of public record. More recently IUF affiliates around the world again gave support to STECSA in Guatemala when an aggressive management sought to weaken some of the union's gains stemming from the 1980's campaigns. After a 22-month struggle, the union was able to successfully defend these gains in a new collective agreement earlier this year. In Russia, after nearly a decade of anti-union practices following Coca-Cola's implantation in the former Soviet Union, workers have recently signed a first collective agreement in Moscow, with the support of the IUF and its affiliates. The struggle continues.

It is worth noting that Coca-Cola has a significantly higher trade union membership density than its major competitor PepsiCo, a company which can more accurately be described as consistently anti-union. A serious, sustained campaign for global respect for trade union rights must take account of the global environment in which the company operates, a factor overlooked by supporters of the boycott.

The collective efforts of the IUF and our affiliates are not assisted by unsubstantiated and unverified assertions about the company which cannot be credibly defended and which The Coca-Cola Company has little difficulty in refuting. Serious accusations against the company over issues relating to trade union rights may now lose credibility because of misleading information being circulated in various versions of the boycott call.

It has always been our position that Coca-Cola bears ultimate responsibility for ensuring respect for fundamental rights throughout the Coca-Cola system. In our experience over many years, Coca-Cola is a company which, given the opportunity, is likely to seek to weaken an agreement, block an organizing drive or bust a union where it can do so. In this respect, it is no different from most other transnational companies. To change this our response must be, as always, sustained organizing and engagement backed up by a credible threat of action where necessary to defend and advance respect for trade union rights in this as in all such companies.