Coca-Cola's Letter to University of Massachusetts

June 15, 2004

Chancellor John Lombardi
374 Whitmore Administration Building
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003

Dear Chancellor Lombardi:

The Coca-Cola Company deeply values our partnership with the University of Massachusetts, providing our beverages and sharing in the achievements of your campus. We have long appreciated your business, and strive to provide you with quality products and top-notch service.

Related Links

India Resource Center Letter to UMass Amherst, June 8, 2004

India Resource Center Response to Coca-Cola, July 24, 2004

We recognize that, from time to time, companies like The Coca-Cola Company are attacked, accused and blamed for a whole host of things. Occasionally, we decide not to respond directly to these attacks, believing that such misinformation is no match for the products we provide to the University of Massachusetts, and the very real jobs, services and opportunities we provide to the surrounding communities. Recently, you may have heard some very ugly accusations regarding Coca-Cola and operations in Colombia and India. Let me assure you that our Company does business around the world in exactly the same way we do business in Amherst: honestly, ethically, in compliance with applicable law, and with respect for the basic principles of human decency and justice. Any suggestion to the contrary is a matter of deep personal concern to me.

But as you may be aware, some groups have made disturbing claims about our Company and local bottling partners' business practices in Colombia, accusing us of abusing human rights - even of committing violence and murder - in that troubled country.

I want you to know that these allegations are completely false and without merit. The facts speak for themselves:

  • Two different independent inquiries in Colombia - one in a Colombian Court, and one by the Colombian Attorney General's office - examined the issue of whether managers at a bottling plant conspired to intimidate trade unionists and found no evidence to support the allegations. Moreover, at no time during these proceedings did SINALTRAINAL or any of its members assert that The Coca-Cola Company had anything to do with the alleged wrongdoing.
  • These allegations were the thrust of a lawsuit filed against The Coca-Cola Company in a U.S. District Court in Miami and the Court dismissed the charges against our Company. We are confident that as this case proceeds against our bottling partners, the Court will find there is no evidence to support the claims.
  • SINALTRAINBEC, a Colombian union representing bottler employees, has publicly stated that it has "not a single indication" that the Company or any bottler has links to illegal armed groups.
  • The Coca-Cola Company has independently investigated the claims regarding human rights abuses in Colombia and has found no evidence to support them.

Our Company has been a valuable member of the Colombian community for more than 70 years and our bottling partners respect the rights of all employees, including those who choose third-party representation or union membership. In fact, our bottling partners enjoy extensive, normal relations with 14 separate unions in Colombia and currently have collective bargaining agreements in place covering wages, benefits and working conditions. In a country where violence against union members has deterred all but approximately four percent of the labor force from unionizing, 31% of Coca-Cola FEMSA's Colombia employees belong to unions.

Regarding allegations that have been made against our operations in India: here, too, we respect the rule of law. Furthermore, neighboring communities, tribal leaders, non-government organizations (NGOs), environmental scientists and government officials have repeatedly rejected the protestors' allegations as groundless. Allow me to expand on some specific allegations:

Kerala, India, Plant
A number of independent scientific and Governmental reports spell out the fact that the Coca-Cola plant in Kerala should not be held responsible for the water shortages in the area. The local area is and has been experiencing drought conditions for some time. The most recent report, compiled by relevant Government regulators and an independent non-Governmental organization, has drawn the same conclusion. This recent report was commissioned by the Kerala High Court based on a court case brought against the plant and to allow the court to determine the actual facts.

In addition, The Coca-Cola Company is in the forefront of providing water harvesting technologies to local communities throughout India and the Company has received praise from the Secretary General of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for its commitments to the communities in which it does business.

The bio-solids attributable to our India operations are the end result of the wastewater and water treatment processes and are made up of organic and inorganic material. The use of bio-solids as a soil amendment is not an uncommon practice around the world and within the Coca-Cola system, including in the US. We require that all of our plants, including in India, monitor and comply with good environmental practices and applicable law regarding the generation, composition and management of the bio-solids that are a by-product of our manufacturing operations. Our operations in India are subject to regulation by the national government's Central Pollution Control Board, as well as the various State Pollution Control Boards. In a recently issued determination, the Central Pollution Control Board indicated that the concentration of cadmium and other heavy metals in our bio-solids is below prescribed limits and, therefore, instructed the State Pollution Control Boards that the bio-solids should not be considered hazardous.

It is also important to note that The Coca-Cola Company in India not only complies with local laws but also adheres to the same international standards applied to all Coca-Cola manufacturing facilities worldwide. The Coca-Cola Company has one consistent quality and environmental management system and our management teams' remuneration is linked to maintaining the high levels of quality for which Coca-Cola is famous.

Despite the strength of our Company's position, we have decided to suspend the operation of the plant until we are able to find a mutually satisfactory position between ourselves and the local and state governments. While we are aware that this may take some time, we are determined not to allow the current situation to jeopardize our role in the economic development of Kerala and the consequent impact this would have on the nearly 5,000 people who rely on the plant for their livelihood.

Pesticides in Soft Drinks
In August 2003 India's Ministry of Health & Family Welfare commissioned accredited Indian laboratories to perform tests on our soft drinks throughout the country. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare confirmed that our products in India are safe. Additionally, two of the world's leading internationally accredited laboratories (TNO in the Netherlands and CSL in the UK) have confirmed through independent testing of our products manufactured in India that these products are safe to drink.

In India, as in the rest of the world, our plants use a multiple barrier treatment system to remove potential contaminants and unwanted natural substances, including pesticides, from the water used in our products and in order to comply with sound and legally prescribed food safety standards. Our products in India are safe and are tested regularly to ensure they meet rigorous standards. These tests include testing for pesticides and insecticides.

Coca-Cola India shares the aspirations of the people of India to spur economic growth and create more local jobs. Since investing in India, the country has welcomed our business as a good corporate neighbor. We built the Kerala plant at the invitation of the Kerala State Government and today this plant alone directly employs 141 people and 300 contractors -- who are drawn primarily from neighboring communities. It is estimated for every direct job in our business in India, 10 indirect jobs are created as a result of inputs, goods and services that we buy primarily from local businesses. In addition, nearly 24,000 self-employed people in the state of Kerala alone are retailers of our products.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these facts with you. If you are interested in learning more about The Coca-Cola Company or our work in Colombia or India, I ask that you please contact my colleague Lori Billingsley at (404) 676-2683.

In addition, you may wish to visit our websites - www.cokefacts.org or www.coca-colaindia.com - that feature more facts on these important subjects.



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