SAN FRANCISCO - An international campaign to boycott Coca-Cola products was launched Tuesday to support workers in the company's bottling plants in Colombia, some of whom have been threatened or killed by paramilitaries.
Actions are planned in cities around the United States as well as in England, France, Australia and other countries to demonstrate solidarity with SINALTRAINAL, the union that represents bottling plant employees.
Seven bottling plant union leaders who worked for Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia have been killed by paramilitaries over the past 15 years, some of them inside the plants.
Activists allege that officials in the plants knew about threats from paramilitaries, and allowed them free access to the shop floor. SINALTRAINAL argues that Coca-Cola should be held responsible for the murders.
"Coca-Cola has the ability to correct the human rights abuses in their plants in Colombia, and they must do so," said Dan Kovalik, an attorney representing SINALTRAINAL and the family of Isidro Gil, one of the workers killed inside a Coca-Cola bottling plant, in a suit brought against Coca-Cola in federal court in Miami.
Coca-Cola denies SINALTRAINAL's allegations.
"We treat all our employees in more than 200 countries in which we do business with fairness, dignity and respect," Coca-Cola officials said in a statement about labor issues in Colombia. "We and our bottling partners operate in accordance with local laws."
The portion of the suit against Coca-Cola was dismissed March 31, but the remainder of the suit against Coca-Cola's Colombian bottling partners continues.
The plaintiffs plan to appeal the dismissal of Coca-Cola from the suit, said Kovalik, adding it was tossed out because the court did not have jurisdiction to proceed.
Several labor organizations support the boycott, including the San Francisco Labor Council, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Communication Workers of America.
"The workers' movement has lost some of its best leaders with these killings," said Hector Rincon, the president of a Colombian food-industry union. "Knowing there is international support for us is very important."