Connect the Dots and Protest Coke’s Human Rights Abuses
by Latona Giwa
Scarlet and Black (Grinnell College)
November 4, 2005

As we sit in the safety and comfort of our Grinnell homes and wait for another Iowa winter to settle in, the world’s poor appear as a remote Other.

We read about them in our classes, we make donations to charity causes and sometimes, when the news is slow, we see a brief portrayal of their struggles in the news. But this They is an abstract group, disconnected and dispensable to the functioning of our lives. They are not us. They do not lead the same types of lives.

When Grinnell students can not wait for their shift at Cowles Dining Hall to finally be over, men and women around the world are working in dangerous, demeaning conditions simply to survive.

The differences between our lives at Grinnell and the lives of many oppressed peoples in the developing world are astounding. So their problems are not our own. How can we feel connected to these people that are nothing like us?

Our commonality is our humanity. The factory worker and the Grinnell student both deserve safety and freedom. Every family deserves food, shelter, and equal protection under the law.

Every child deserves to know that her or his guardian will not be taken away in the night. And every parent deserves to know that they are not endangering their children by fighting for their basic human rights.

When corporations like Coca-Cola violate these basic human rights, we are all affected. The desperate situations of factory workers in Colombia and communities without clean water in India are desperate situations for all of us.

Oppression is not limited to any group or area in the world. The longer we let oppression continue, the closer it comes to taking hold of our friends, families and ourselves.

The workers at Coca-Cola bottling plants that are threatened with termination, blacklisting or even death are not just another They that we cannot help. We are connected to these workers and their families by our actions as consumers.

By collectively practicing responsible consumerism, we directly affect the lives of peoples disenfranchised by corporate cruelty. By stopping Coke consumption we send two messages to our world community.

We make a demonstrative statement to Coca-Cola that we are disgusted with their cruel practices, the lack of protection for their factory workers and their unwillingness to investigate the murders of unionists inside their factories. We also send a message to the factory workers that Grinnell College is fighting in solidarity with them in their battle for just, safe working conditions.

Coca-Cola representatives know the power of these messages. That is why they deny their responsibility for workers’ lives in their own factories. They are afraid of the powerful effects of organized protest.

They know that this is not a boycott of their product, but a boycott of their practices. They know that our message will be noticed and that our actions will be modeled after.

Other colleges, high schools and groups will join the boycott and the Coca-Cola factory workers will feel the strength of uniform opposition. The power of 1,400 voices must not be underestimated. Grinnell College has the ability to further empower the people that are hurt by Coca-Cola’s corporate malfeasance.

I say “further empower” because these people are not powerless. They have the ability and resources to fight their own battle and are doing just that. No one is asking Grinnell students to jump on a plane to Colombia or India and demand the right to unionize from factory managers or to demand that Coca-Cola stop polluting Indian water sources.

You are being asked to work in tandem with these people, by fighting along side them with the resources you possess.

Workers oppose Coca-Cola and its bottling factories on site despite the dangers of a civil war and a corporate supported paramilitary threat. Grinnell students can oppose Coca-Cola and its bottling factories in the safety of their homes by boycotting Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola, like any other corporation, owes all its workers protection from danger while working and the right to unionize.

Coke must take responsibility for its many violations of human rights. They must stop hiring paramilitaries to threaten workers who try to unionize and dumping waste into factory communities’ water sources.

Nine union members are dead, hundreds fear losing their lives and many more are without a union to protect them. This is not a question of source bias or of more college kids complaining about corporations.

This is a struggle for the fundamental right to live and work in safety. Fathers, mothers, and children are fighting for their basic human rights with their lives. Is it too much to ask that we fight with our soft drink choice?

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.




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