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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Time to Regulate TNCs: IUF Welcomes War on Want's Coca-Cola Report

Posted to the IUF website 20-Mar-2006

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The IUF, which represents a majority of unionized workers in the world-wide Coca-Cola system, welcomes War on Want's "Alternative Report" on Coca-Cola (read the report by clicking here).

We fully support the report's fundamental argument that "a global framework of corporate regulation" is ultimately needed to adequately address the growing power of transnational corporations. "While unions today can and do force global companies to recognize and negotiate, including negotiations at the global level, this process can never substitute for the kind of regulatory framework that War on Want's report calls for", comments IUF general secretary Ron Oswald. "Voluntary but enforceable agreements may currently represent unions' best concrete mechanisms to control worker rights abuses by global corporations, but they can never be allowed to substitute for the long-term goal of enforceable global regulations governing the behaviour of such companies. This is particularly true given the real danger at present that the protection of global investor rights threatens to supersede the protection of human rights. The IUF therefore joins and strongly supports efforts by War on Want to move us towards this long-term goal."

The IUF also welcomes the references in the report to a number of cases in which Coca-Cola's engagement with the IUF has led to fair resolutions of abuses in the Coca-Cola system. The War on Want report describes the company as having 50,000 employees. In fact the Coca-Cola system including its bottlers world-wide employs in excess of 500,000 workers. The IUF's task is to defend the rights of Coca-Cola workers throughout the global Coca-Cola system. The report demonstrates that we have achieved concrete successes.

The IUF has also negotiated an agreement with Coca-Cola to meet twice-yearly at its corporate headquarters in Atlanta with a team of IUF affiliated unions from around the world. This meeting provides a framework for resolving fairly, through concrete agreements, issues raised by workers and IUF members who have called on the IUF to use this process to protect their rights. It is thus a platform for raising precisely precisely the kind of issues highlighted in the War on Want report. While it may not meet the expectations of some who want to see an instant transformation in one of the world's largest corporate systems, or others who would like to see a world without Coca-Cola, this agreement to recognize unions internationally is a major step forward and is unprecedented on the part of a US-based global food and beverage company. For this reason, it has been welcomed by IUF member unions around the world as a measure of concrete progress. Achieving this level of union recognition within Coca-Cola has allowed the IUF to make significant advances in a number of cases where parts of the Coca-Cola system actively opposed the full exercise of workers' rights.

At the most recent meeting in on February 28, 2006 the IUF and Coca-Cola reached an agreement to request the UN's International Labour Office (ILO) to conduct an investigation of the Coca-Cola system's labour practises in Colombia. We strongly believe that such an ILO investigation today is critical to the future of workers rights and unions within Coca-Cola's Colombian system. The IUF will continue to press for clarification and resolution of the allegations of serious past abuses in Colombia raised in War on Want's report, either through a process of negotiation with those involved or the swift conclusion of ongoing legal proceedings.

At the same meeting on February 28, the IUF and Coca-Cola agreed to closely monitor a local union rights agreement reached by the union and the local company at the Guatemalan Coca-Cola bottler INCASA on January 31, 2006. The War on Want report rightly points out there has been a history of union rights abuses at this facility and the IUF believes both The Coca-Cola Company and the local bottler INCASA must ensure that the local agreement reached guarantees that worker rights are fully respected.

Towards a Global Workers'Rights Agreement?

While it makes no concrete proposals for global union action, War On Want's Coca-Cola report clearly points the way forward, and that is one more reason to welcome its publication. War on Want, the IUF and many others know that a legally-binding regulatory framework needs to be imposed on all global corporate activity. We're not there yet. In the meantime companies like Coca-Cola must be persuaded to reach concrete and binding agreements with representative international unions guaranteeing the full access to rights throughout their global operations. Whilst such agreement will certainly remain necessary in a world where regulation of such companies is a reality it is particularly important today in the absence of virtually any form of such regulation.

The IUF has opened negotiations with The Coca-Cola Company for just such a comprehensive agreement covering the entirety of the Coca-Cola system. War on Want's report can only enhance pressure on the company to recognize the necessity for these negotiations to advance. "If Coca-Cola wants to be known as a company that is genuinely prepared to address worker rights abuses throughout its system it needs to reach a meaningful global agreement with the international union organization representing the majority of workers in its global system", says IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. "Failure to do so will mean that the company will continue to face difficulty responding credibly to legitimate public criticism and future reports like the "Alternative Report" published by War on Want. The opportunity to respond positively to our proposals and advance our negotiations towards such an agreement now lies in the hands of The Coca-Cola Company".