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IUF Welcomes Publication of ILO Study of Labour Relations at Coca-Cola Colombia Bottlers

Posted to the IUF website 17-Oct-2008

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IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald has welcomed the publication of the ILO study of labour relations in Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia . The study - undertaken at the request of the IUF and The Coca-Cola Company - covers issues of labour relations, health and safety and worker access to fundamental labour rights - is the result of an investigation by an ILO team which visited the vast majority of Coca-Coca bottlers in Colombia. Most of these are operated by Coca-Cola's largest Latin American bottler FEMSA. In welcoming the publication of the report Oswald commented, "What we hoped for from the ILO was an objective, independent and competent examination of current labour relations practices in the Coca-Cola system in a country which remains the world's most dangerous place for trade union members to freely exercise their rights. That is exactly what the ILO has produced." Oswald thanked the ILO for delivering a serious and wide-ranging report under difficult circumstances and in particular the ILO team that did the work on the ground.

What does the study tell us?

The IUF has always believed that there were serious labour relations issues in the Coca-Cola system in Colombia that need to be addressed. The study identifies specific areas of concern (although these are by no means unique to Coca-Cola) which need to be taken up by unions, by the IUF and by the Company and its bottlers at a country level and through the process of twice-yearly dialogue that the IUF affiliates have established with the Coca-Cola Company corporate management since 2005.

Two major areas of concern pointed to in the report point to systematic pressure on basic union rights that the IUF will be taking up with Coca-Cola.

The first is the existence of a system of dependent company-sponsored labour relations through company-established worker structures competing with union representation, often with the explicit support of plant management. This system of parallel structures - similar to the destructive "Soldarismo" system in some Central American countries - aims to deny company employees fair and full access to union rights.

The second is the extensive use of outsourcing and other forms of precarious employment prevalent throughout Colombia and increasingly in the globalized economy. The report shows how by outsourcing many activities which are core to the operations of the bottlers the companies systematically deny and restrict the ability of those workers to exercise their rights to join a union of their choice.

Looking to build on the findings of the ILO report Oswald added, "While it is encouraging to see that in one plant our affiliate SICO has secured the right to stable employment throughout the Carepa plant, precarious employment stays rampant in the majority of the system and largely unnecessary outsourcing is consciously used, not to adjust employment when needed, but to systematically impose insecurity, intimidate workers and deny them any meaningful right to join a union. We now expect The Coca-Cola Company and FEMSA, its principle bottler in Colombia, to enter into serious discussions with unions in Colombia and the IUF to reduce the use of precarious employment relations as an instrument for denying workers their rights. We also fully expect the company to ensure its bottlers end their support for the parallel system of company-dominated organizations and provide fair and full access to workers to join independent unions of their choice".

The IUF will now raise the findings of this study with the Coca-Cola Company as an issue demanding urgent attention and monitor developments through our twice-yearly meetings with the Company where IUF affiliates from around the world meet with Coca-Cola's senior global management.