Coca Cola, CSR and Human Rights

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Coca Cola

Coca Cola in Colombia

In 2001, Lawyers for the United Steel workers union filed a lawsuit in America on behalf of the Colombian union Sinaltrainal.

'The suit alleges that Coca-Cola and Panamerican Beverages, its principal bottler in Latin America, waged what union leaders describe as a campaign of terror, using paramilitaries to kill, torture and kidnap union leaders in Colombia'[1].

Coca Cola deny responsibility as they claim to not own or operate the plants involved. Yet Coca Cola owns 25% of bottling plant Panamerican Beverages which is Coca Cola's main bottling plant in Latin America[2]. Panamerican also deny the charges.

In 2003 it was reported that Panamerican Beverages would stand trial for allegedly hiring right-wing paramilitaries to kill and intimidate union leaders in Colombia[3]. But District Judge Jose E Martinez excluded Coca-Cola and its Colombian unit because its bottling agreement did not give it "explicit control" over labour issues in Colombia. The BBC Reports that this is 'the first time a US judge has ordered a company to stand trial for alleged human-rights violations committed overseas under the Alien Tort Claims Act'. However they add that, 'Corporations usually succeed in getting such cases dismissed before they reach trial'. Lawyers acting on behalf of the trade unionists are reported to be appealing against Coca Cola's exclusion.

Gill reports that 180 Coca-Cola employees have suffered major human rights violations over a period of fifteen years with nine of them having been murdered. Family members have also experienced threats, abductions, torture and murder[4].

Gill continues by explaining how 'Multinational firms profit from the reduced effectiveness of trade unions that arises from the intimidation of workers by paramilitaries. Weak unions pose less resistance to job cuts, lowered wages, reduced benefits, and “flexible” contracts that are promoted by multinational corporations'

'Murdered unionists are not the product of indiscriminate, chaotic violence, nor are they the “collateral damage” of civilians caught between warring groups. They are the victims of a calculated and selective strategy carried out by sectors of the state, allied paramilitaries, and some employers to weaken and eliminate trade unions'[5].

Coca-Cola is reported[6] to be aggressive in the restructuring of its operations and centralising of productions in Columbia. 6700 workers have lost their jobs between 1992 and 2002 and 80% of the Coca-Cola work force is now composed of non-union, temporary workers. Wages for these individuals are only a quarter of those earned by their unionized counterparts. Coca-Cola has consistently pressured unionized workers to resign. In 2003 it closed 11 of its 16 bottling plants and 'forced workers to renounce their union contracts. Despite collective bargaining agreements that oblige it to find new jobs for displaced workers, the company has failed to fulfill its obligations, prompting a 12-day hunger strike by Sinaltrainal in March 2004... The Vice-Minister of Social Protection, Luz Estela Arango, who is charged with ruling on the legality of the plant closures and the firings, is a former lawyer for the Coca-Cola Company'.

Coca Cola may deny the charges, however as Gill argues[7] The Coca-Cola Company have failed to protect its workers from paramilitary intimidation, have benefited from the situation and 'in some cases, eyewitness accounts and abundant circumstantial evidence suggest that it is complicit with paramilitary terror'.

Coca Cola in Guatemala

Guatemalan workers have been struggling against Coca-Cola since the 1970s. In the years between 1976 and 1985, three general secretaries of the union were assassinated and members of their families, friends and legal advisers were threatened, arrested, kidnapped, shot, tortured and forced into exile. In 1980 the IUF backed an international boycott of Coca-Cola, with IUF-affiliated trade unions mounting solidarity stoppages in Europe, the Americas and New Zealand. The Greater London Council cancelled contracts for Coca-Cola in its restaurants, bars and cafeterias.

Despite victory in that earlier struggle, the violations of workers’ rights continue. Café INCASA, owner of Coca-Cola’s plants in Guatemala, is carrying out a union-busting campaign. According to the General Secretary of FESTRAS, the federation of agricultural and beverage unions, this includes the unfair dismissal of 13 Coca-Cola employees in the last four years. Workers and their family members with ties to unions have reportedly been subjected to death threats. In 2002 Coca-Cola’s bottlers PANAMCO took legal action in order to dismiss eight union representatives who took approved leave to participate in collective bargaining. Only after Coca-Cola was lobbied by the IUF to stop violating agreements on union activity were the dismissals withdrawn. [8]

Further examples of 'Union-Busting'

In October 2001 Coca-Cola workers in Punjab, Pakistan were dismissed for calling a ‘strike’. The strike turned out to be a brief delay before work in the morning due to under staffing. The Labour Court ordered that the dismissed workers be reinstated, but Coca-Cola refused to comply with the ruling, only conceding finally when the IUF intervened. Efforts to unionise the bottling plants which Coca-Cola operates directly in Lahore, Faisalabad and Gujranwala have so far been unsuccessful due to strong resistance from management.

In Nicaragua, the Sole Union of Coca-Cola Company Workers (SUTEC) has complained that its workers at Coca-Cola bottlers PANAMCO have been denied the right to organise, as well as being threatened and unlawfully dismissed. The General Secretary of SUTEC, Daniel Reyes, has stated that: “We believe that the objective of this ongoing and escalating campaign is to crush the union.” The union is seeking legal redress.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Coca-Cola has refused to comply with a judicial order to reinstate 50 workers in Peru; since September 2004 Coca-Cola workers in the country have been calling strikes and protesting against the company’s actions, despite violent police repression. Coca-Cola workers in Chile have also been calling strikes on the grounds that the company is forcing them to work up to 16 hours a day and not adhering to the minimum wage. In Russia, Coca-Cola has been continually opposing union organisation, including attempts to get rid of the chief organiser of the Moscow Coca-Cola. [9]

Coca Cola in India

The India Resource Centre[10] describe how communities throughout India are experiencing hardship as a result of the Coca Cola bottling operations in the country.

Severve Water Shortages Communities 'living around Coca-Cola's bottling plants are experiencing severe water shortages, directly as a result of Coca-Cola's massive extraction of water from the common groundwater resource'.

Soil and Water Pollution Coca-Cola are also accused of 'indiscriminately discharging its waste water into the fields around its plant and sometimes into rivers... The result has been that the groundwater has been polluted as well as the soil. Public health authorities have posted signs around wells and hand pumps advising the community that the water is unfit for human consumption'.

Toxic Waste Coca-Cola has also in the past distributed its solid waste to farmers in India as "fertilizer". Tests conducted by the BBC found cadmium and lead in the waste, effectively making it toxic waste.

During 2006-2007, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) conducted an assessment of the Coca-Cola Company's water resource management policies and practices in India. This report is known as the 'Independent Third Party Assessment of Coca-Cola Facilities in India'[11]. The India Resource Centre state that the report 'is a damning indictment of Coca-Cola's operations in India'[12]. They go on to describe how the report confirms the deteriorating water levels in the village of Kala Dera, with the report calling for alternative sources of water to be found or for the closure of the bottling plant itself. The report also 'points out the heavy pollution present in the immediate vicinity of the Coca-Cola bottling plants and calls for additional studies. The report also shows that the Coca-Cola company has failed to meet its own standards regarding waste management, and that the company has hampered the TERI assessment because it has refused to share the Environmental Impact Assessments for any one of the six plants'.

Only 6 of Coca Cola's 50 Indian bottling plants were assessed and the India Resource Centre criticise the use of TERI as the "independent" assessor of Coca-Cola. This is because the two groups are reported to have worked together in the past (co-organizing Earth Day), Coca-Cola is reported to have provided funding to TERI in the past, and also because TERI named Coca-Cola as among the most responsible companies in India in 2001.

Coca Cola in El Salvador

Coca-Cola’s Salvadorean subsidiary has been accused by environmentalists of exhausting waterresources in the region of Soyapango over a 25-year period.The company subsequently relocatedits bottling plant to a new aquifer in Nejapa, near San Salvador.The mayor of Nejapa has accusedthe company of causing pollution with untreated water from the plant, which has led to thedeath of fauna and fish.After Coca-Cola refused to deal with the problem, the company wastaken to the Supreme Court.The case is ongoing.[13]

Coca Cola CSR

Coca-Cola is a worldwide organisation which has extended its activities to help fund and become a part of different organisations around the world. One such organisation is Camp Coca-Cola, which is a year round programme of leadership training and community service. It also offers a Summer Camp programme which includes a number of exciting yet testing activities. Camp Coca-Cola aims to challenge its members to see the world more openly as a place where they can make a difference. It is run by professionals who are dedicated to providing a unique and worthwhile experience to those who attend. Attendance is decided through nominations by local schools and community organisations on the basis that those who are chosen are dedicated to learning and are open to new life experiences. Coca-Cola fund this project which they feel is beneficial to the communities it serves and Camps have been specially set up all over America [14] Organisations such as Camp Coca-Cola have been set up in an attempt by Coca-Cola to improve its overall image and to increase its ability to boost its own long term profits.

A further extension of Coca-Cola's work is 'Coca-Cola Africa'. This organisation is said to be committed to the future of the African continent and to the well being of its people and communities, and furthermore to its economic development. This statement stands in stark contrast to the activities which Coca-Cola have already been accused of in India. Such atrocities which have been previously mentioned in this report contradict the philosophy of 'Coca-Cola Africa'. This particular organisation which Coca-Cola initiated was set up to educate and distribute information about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. It places particular attention on the treatment of individuals who suffer from such diseases, and furthermore harshly criticises the discrimination of these unfortunate people.[15]

One additional organisation of Coca-Cola is the Coca-Cola Foundation which is said to be the 'philanthropic arm' of the Coca-Cola Company. It focuses on education and the advancement of cultural diversity. Its main activities include the offering of scholarships, the building of schools and libraries and the donation of books. It aims to help and support people through higher education who lack both financial and personal support [16]. It appears that Coca-Cola put a great deal of effort into initiating organisations and programmes to help extend the education of citizens around the world, more specifically in America and in Africa. Despite the ever growing number of these programmes which are available it is difficult for Coca-Cola to mask the shocking activities they carry out each day in the small communities in India where they operate their bottling plants. Coca-Cola may indeed help fund educational programmes in America, but this is of little consolation to the many villages in India, who are left suffering at the hands of this multinational.


'Coca-Cola busted for big fat rotten lies'

In a article for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2009 entitled 'Coca-Cola busted for big fat rotten lies'[17], Burke reports that Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had ruled that an advert featuring actor Kerry Armstrong as part of a Coca Cola "Motherhood & Myth-Busting" advertising campaign had been misleading. The Herald reports that the campaign used 'the wholesome motherly image of Armstrong to convince parents the soft drink was "kiddy-safe", the advertisements claimed that Coca-Cola did not make children fat, did not rot their teeth and was not packed with large amounts of caffeine'. The full page advert claimed to be dispelling the 'myths' about health implications of consuming coca-cola however the Commission is quoted as ruling that "Coke's messages were totally unacceptable, creating an impression which is likely to mislead that Coca-Cola cannot contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay". The ads contained false claims and where deemed to have the 'potential to mislead parents about the potential consequences of consuming Coca-Cola'. As argued by Obesity Policy Coalition's senior policy adviser, Jane Martin, "Coca-Cola's promotion points clearly to a need for better food labelling so food and drinks can be seen for what they are, rather than allowing marketing spin to dress them up as something that they are not".

$750,000 settlement for product's unsustantiated weight loss claims

In 2009, The Connecticut Attorney General's Office announced a settlement of $750,000 from Coke, Nestle and Beverage Partnership Worldwide (BPW) around 'questionable claims that Enviga, a green tea beverage, will burn extra calories resulting in weight loss'[18]. According to the report, Enviga's marketing claims purported that consuming three cans in a day would result in increased calorie burning by up to 60 to 100 calories per day. The investigation into the claims began in 2007 and found that the implied weight loss claims were scientifically weightless and unsupported by solid evidence. In the words of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, "The Enviga lesson is that weight loss requires sound diet and exercise, not simply a concoction of caffeine and green tea," He goes on to add that "Enviga's calorie-burning claims led to credibility loss more than weight loss. Its new labels must now state clearly that calorie burning and weight loss requires proper diet and exercise".


  1. BBC News Coke sued over death squad claims 20th July 2001. (Accessed 26 January 2008)
  2. Armbruster, S. (2003) Coke bottler faces death suit BBC News. 2 April 2003. (Accessed 26 January 2008)
  3. ibid
  4. Gill, L. (2004) LABOR AND HUMAN RIGHTS:‘The Real Thing’ in Colombia Report to the Human Rights Committee of the American Anthropological Association by the Department of Anthropology, American University Washington. 28th November 2004. Accessed 26th January 2008
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid
  7. ibid.
  8. War on Want Website, accessed 18 March 2008
  9. War on Want Website, accessed 18 March 2008
  10. India Resource Centre Campaign to hold Coca Cola accountable Accessed 28th January 2008
  11. The Energy and Resources Institute the study on independent third party assessment of Coca-Cola facilities in India Accessed 28th January 2008
  12. India Resource CentreCoca-Cola Asked to Shut Plant in India Accessed 28th January 2008
  13. War on Want Website, accessed 18 March 2008
  14. [1] (Link Dead: 28 January 2008); seems to have move to C5 Youth Foundation (Accessed: 28 January 2008)
  15. [2].
  16. [3]
  17. Burke, K. (2009) Coca-Cola busted for big fat rotten lies 2nd April 2009. Accessed 24th July 2009
  18. State of Conneticut Attorney General's Office Attorney General Announces Settlement Resolving Weight Loss And Calorie-Burning Claims About Enviga Connecticut Attorney General's Office Press Release. 26th february 2009. Accessed 24th July 2009