Standing Up to Coca-Cola
In this era of globalization, numerous multinational corporations
have grown economies larger than those of most nations. The unprecedented
control of corporations in the economic and social spheres has raised
questions about their practices.
In recent years, the Coca-Cola Company has faced enormous criticism
stemming from their unhealthy trade practices, human rights violations
and environmental record. Critics have even coined the phrase "coca-colanization"
to refer to the neocolonial and indifferent approach of this multinational
giant. In fact, Multinational Monitor, an acclaimed independent watchdog
on corporate conduct, ranked Coke among "The Worst Multinationals
To assume that coca-colanization is limited to the developing world
would be turning a blind eye to its domestic record.
In November 2000, the Coca Cola Co. paid $192.5 million to settle
a highly publicized lawsuit involving about 2,000 African-American
employees who alleged race-based disparities in pay and promotions.
Coke is currently battling another class-action race discrimination
lawsuit. Workers in its Cincinnati plant accuse the company of "creating
a hostile, intimidating, offensive and abusive workplace environment."
Apart from allegations of racism, Coke has enmeshed itself in another
troubling controversy: Outsourcing to companies with dangerously low
safety standards, hence risking the health of U.S. consumers and workers
In Florida, Coke outsourced Minute Maid production to Cutrale, a Brazilian-owned
juice company, which afterward failed both United States Department
of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration inspections. The Occupation
Safety and Health Administration cited the Auburndale, Fla, plant
for 15 violations, 13 of which were determined to be "serious." The
plant has experienced explosions, two major chemical leaks prompting
plant evacuations, shutdowns and worker hospitalizations as well as
an electrical accident that killed a worker.
As of 2004, OSHA had cited the Coca-Cola Co. and its network of bottlers
2,264 times in just a decade for violations of federal safety and
But Coca-Cola's troubles in other countries have largely eclipsed
those in the United States.
Last year, the United Kingdom's entire supply of Dasani water (owned
by Coke) was pulled off the shelves because it had been contaminated
with bromate, a cancer-causing chemical.
Additionally, Coke - one of the largest private employers of the African
continent - has been charged with facilitating the spread of the AIDS
epidemic by denying health insurance to its workers. Initially, only
a small fraction of workers received health-care coverage until widespread
protests and condemnations from international organizations forced
Coke to agree to broaden their coverage to include a marginally larger
number of employees (but not their families).
The concession turned out to be just lip service, however, as expanded
insurance only partially covered costs of expensive patented drugs
and excluded coverage to cheap yet effective generic medications.
In India, many have decried Coke's selling of industrial waste (containing
lead and cadmium) to farmers as fertilizers, thereby releasing hazardous
waste into the environment. Furthermore, Coke's own bottled products
have repeatedly been found to carry high levels of pesticide.
Coke has also been convicted in India by local governing bodies for
unauthorized ground water mining. In South India, the Plachimada bottling
plant in Kerela has been shut down - following three years of a permanent
vigil by community activists in front of the factory's gates - due
to serious violations of rules established by the Indian Central Pollution
In Columbia, Coke stands accused of complicity in the murder, kidnapping
and torture of multiple workers and trade unionists which was carried
out by paramilitary forces who allegedly worked closely with plant
This Friday, human rights activists from across the globe will converge
on Coca-Cola's world headquarters in Atlanta. Among them will be William
Mendoza, a Coca-Cola worker and vice president of SINALTRAINAL (Food
and Beverage Workers' Union) in Colombia as well as Amit Srivastava,
Coordinator of India Resource Center.
At a time when 51 of the world's 100 largest economies are corporations,
lobbying governments to ensure our collective well-being is now simply
inadequate. Corporations wield tremendous influence over nearly every
element of our existence, and they must be held accountable. The multinational
scope of their power signifies one thing clearly: Protest, too, must
The burgeoning boycott campaign against Coca-Cola is composed of many
people, of many nations, of many cultures. Coke's legacy of deception,
neglect and violence - by encompassing such a radically wide spectrum
of offenses - has come to unify various types of activists struggling
on different fronts in the name of human rights.
Conscientious and active global citizens can starve Coke of its profits,
forcing it to terminate the harm it afflicts on our planet and its
Khurana is a third-year neurobiology graduate student and member
of No Brand No Empire. Buckley is a Spanish and sociology senior.
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