Connect the Dots and Protest Coke’s Human Rights Abuses
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
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
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
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.