15 July 2004 Edition

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Coca Cola still in the Colombian dock

Javier Correa, President of Colombia's Sinaltrainal trade union

Javier Correa, President of Colombia's Sinaltrainal trade union

As the year-long boycott against Coca Cola by Colombian trade unions nears its end, the President of the Sinaltrainal trade union says the struggle against the multinational's policy of harassing trade union members and officials has been a worthy exercise in raising awareness. In this interview, Javier Correa says the campaign will continue "until such time as the company sits down with our union to talk about a solution".

Question: How is your campaign going?

Javier Correa: There has been a large increase in support for us, manifested in different forms. One of these is the case of universities, such as in Ireland, the US and Britain, where the boycott has been implemented.

At the same time, there have been major solidarity actions by some sectors campaigning for disinvestment, like in New York, through the work of politicians and others who have been closely following our reports on the company.

As we meet new organisations in different countries, we have become aware of other things the company has done. The most recent example is India, where there is a large movement, not of workers, but from communities affected because the company has taken control of the underground water and also because of the dumping of industrial waste that has contaminated the water that the farmers use. In the same way we have also come across a movement of former employees of Coca Cola in Venezuala, who were sacked and are today organising themselves and have begun legal action.

Have you received support from trade union movements?

Yes, we have received the support of many unions, such as the United Steel Workers of America. They gave us access to lawyers and made all the contacts and presented the lawsuit against Coca Cola in the US and now this year they have presented another one. They recently filed a lawsuit against Coca Cola FEMSA, the new company that took over the bottling plants in Colombia.

Here in Colombia we have the support of the CGTD (Central General de Trabajadores Democraticos) and the Central Unitario de Trabajadores (CUT) and the Central de Trabajadores de Colombia (CTC) has also expressed their support. In the Spanish State the federations in Galicia have also expressed their support and have publicised the campaign. Another example is Brazil where we came into contact with the chemical workers union and other unions that support us. In Venezuela the new union federation has openly supported the campaign against Coca Cola.

The Teamsters in the US, the union of lorry drivers in Coca Cola, are supporting the campaign on a very concrete point, i.e disinvestment from the banks and societies of Coca Cola.

The fact is that there are orphans whose parents, Coca Cola employees, were murdered; that here in Colombia there have been workers jailed, the documentation is in the court houses. More than fifteen of our brothers have been imprisoned and later released. I was one of those. I have been imprisoned on two occasions. I have been imprisoned and falsely accused by Coca Cola in frame ups with false witnesses that they brought forward. I, who have lived through this, cannot understand how people from abroad dare to say that this is all a lie, we have the proof to back up what we are saying.

In Europe there are some trade unionists who have said that the boycott puts their jobs at risk, that it is a bad tactic.

We respect the views that people in other countries and organisations may have, in cases like Ireland. However, we cannot share that view because we believe that life takes precedence. We believe that not consuming Coca Cola products is a valid mechanism of pressure in order for Coca Cola and the Colombian State to respect the lives of the workers and our families that have also suffered persecution.

We who live in Colombia believe that the boycott is a valid tactic.

The mere fact that the US courts have accepted the lawsuits shows that the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations) and those unions and people that think that Coca Cola is innocent are wrong.

There are also judgements from the courts here in Colombia where it has been shown that Coca Cola managers have violated the right of association and expression and have engaged in illegal sackings. We have shown that the paramilitaries have entered and remained in the bottling plants and have had meetings with management.

Where to now for your campaign?

This is a long-term campaign until such time as Coca Cola sits down and gives a favourable response to the petition for full reparations, which was presented on 22 January 2003. This proposal seeks to mitigate the harm caused to the victims and the union. We say mitigate, because if Coca Cola makes reparations there is no way they can fully make reparations for the harm caused.

Our campaign continues. On 22 July, we are considering some mobilisations and we are even thinking of shutting down production here in Colombia. We are also thinking of carrying out occupations of buildings of international organisations and governments as well as some institutions belonging to the Colombian State.

On the same day, we will publish a report on the first year of the campaign. We are going to highlight other cases to deepen the public discussion on Coke's involvement in Colombia, such as its environmental impact - how it affects the wetlands, how Coke produces industrial waste and also how the State favours it with legislation. We also have some legal documents on how Coke has taken over water sources. We are not of the view that the multinationals should control such a vital resource for humanity like water.

We are also considering bringing criminal charges against the company in relation to other human right violations, because in the US lawsuit there are only four cases and we have a list of more than 120 examples that would be worthy of legal action.


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