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Coke and Human Rights

Here's an article written by a brilliant friend of mine at UT Austin about Coca Cola.
Come out to the protest this Friday! Coke Headquarters, Atlanta, Noon

In this era of globalization, numerous multinational corporations have grown economies larger than those of most nations. The unprecedented control of corporations in the economic and social spheres has raised questions about their practices.

In recent years, the Coca-Cola Company has faced enormous criticism stemming from their unhealthy trade practices, human rights violations and environmental record. Critics have even coined the phrase "coca-colanization" to refer to the neocolonial and indifferent approach of this multinational giant. In fact, Multinational Monitor, an acclaimed independent watchdog on corporate conduct, ranked Coke among "The Worst Multinationals of 2004."

To assume that coca-colanization is limited to the developing world would be turning a blind eye to its domestic record.

In November 2000, the Coca Cola Co. paid $192.5 million to settle a highly publicized lawsuit involving about 2,000 African-American employees who alleged race-based disparities in pay and promotions.

Coke is currently battling another class-action race discrimination lawsuit. Workers in its Cincinnati plant accuse the company of "creating a hostile, intimidating, offensive and abusive workplace environment."

Apart from allegations of racism, Coke has enmeshed itself in another troubling controversy: Outsourcing to companies with dangerously low safety standards, hence risking the health of U.S. consumers and workers alike.

In Florida, Coke outsourced Minute Maid production to Cutrale, a Brazilian-owned juice company, which afterward failed both United States Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration inspections. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration cited the Auburndale, Fla, plant for 15 violations, 13 of which were determined to be "serious." The plant has experienced explosions, two major chemical leaks prompting plant evacuations, shutdowns and worker hospitalizations as well as an electrical accident that killed a worker.

As of 2004, OSHA had cited the Coca-Cola Co. and its network of bottlers 2,264 times in just a decade for violations of federal safety and health rules.

But Coca-Cola's troubles in other countries have largely eclipsed those in the United States.

Last year, the United Kingdom's entire supply of Dasani water (owned by Coke) was pulled off the shelves because it had been contaminated with bromate, a cancer-causing chemical.

Additionally, Coke - one of the largest private employers of the African continent - has been charged with facilitating the spread of the AIDS epidemic by denying health insurance to its workers. Initially, only a small fraction of workers received health-care coverage until widespread protests and condemnations from international organizations forced Coke to agree to broaden their coverage to include a marginally larger number of employees (but not their families).

The concession turned out to be just lip service, however, as expanded insurance only partially covered costs of expensive patented drugs and excluded coverage to cheap yet effective generic medications.

In India, many have decried Coke's selling of industrial waste (containing lead and cadmium) to farmers as fertilizers, thereby releasing hazardous waste into the environment. Furthermore, Coke's own bottled products have repeatedly been found to carry high levels of pesticide.

Coke has also been convicted in India by local governing bodies for unauthorized ground water mining. In South India, the Plachimada bottling plant in Kerela has been shut down - following three years of a permanent vigil by community activists in front of the factory's gates - due to serious violations of rules established by the Indian Central Pollution Board.

In Columbia, Coke stands accused of complicity in the murder, kidnapping and torture of multiple workers and trade unionists which was carried out by paramilitary forces who allegedly worked closely with plant management.

This Friday, human rights activists from across the globe will converge on Coca-Cola's world headquarters in Atlanta. Among them will be William Mendoza, a Coca-Cola worker and vice president of SINALTRAINAL (Food and Beverage Workers' Union) in Colombia as well as Amit Srivastava, Coordinator of India Resource Center.

At a time when 51 of the world's 100 largest economies are corporations, lobbying governments to ensure our collective well-being is now simply inadequate. Corporations wield tremendous influence over nearly every element of our existence, and they must be held accountable. The multinational scope of their power signifies one thing clearly: Protest, too, must become globalized.

The burgeoning boycott campaign against Coca-Cola is composed of many people, of many nations, of many cultures. Coke's legacy of deception, neglect and violence - by encompassing such a radically wide spectrum of offenses - has come to unify various types of activists struggling on different fronts in the name of human rights.

Conscientious and active global citizens can starve Coke of its profits, forcing it to terminate the harm it afflicts on our planet and its diverse inhabitants.

Khurana is a third-year neurobiology graduate student and member of No Brand No Empire. Buckley is a Spanish and sociology senior.

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