Column: Killer Coke

By Eric Naing

Whether being held by Adrien Brody as he struts down an inner city neighborhood that he normally wouldn’t be caught dead in, or being eagerly consumed by computer generated polar bears as if it truly contained the narcotic that shares its namesake, Coca-Cola is everywhere. But lurking under the sheen of perceived corporate coolness lays a legacy of poison and murder.

Last December, the University Michigan joined almost 20 other colleges worldwide in removing Coca-Cola products from its campuses. Barring the alleged sexual promiscuity of Ann Arbor, it is about time that we at the University of Illinois emulate the actions of our Big Ten neighbor to the north.

Coca-Cola is responsible for serious crimes against humanity, and I’m not even talking about the horrors of lime Coke. Worldwide, Coca-Cola has been linked to devastating environmental and human rights violations.

Coca-Cola and its main bottler in Latin America, Panamerican Beverages, have systematically used violence to intimidate workers in Colombia. Disturbingly, it has been alleged that paramilitary mercenaries have been hired to assassinated union leaders in Coca-Cola bottling plants.

In 2004, an independent delegation from New York City concluded after a 10-day tour of Coca-Cola bottling plants that the company was guilty of using paramilitary violence against workers “done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers.” The fact finding delegation led by educational and union representatives cited “179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola’s workers, including nine murders” and noted that “family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured.”

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    Coca-Cola has wreaked havoc on the unionization and rights of Colombian workers. Over a decade ago, 96 percent of Coca-Cola’s Colombian workers were unionized and had stable full-time jobs. Today union membership has plummeted and only 4 percent of Coco-Cola workers have permanent employment.

    While some argue this is the fault of Pamerican Beverages and not Coca-Cola, the New York fact finding report concluded that “the physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval.” Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has the authority to stop this murder and intimidation, but instead chooses to ignore the charges.

    Anti-union practices and violence by Coca-Cola have also been reported in countries such as Turkey and Indonesia.

    On the environmental front, India’s Centre for Science and Environment reported in 2003 that Indian-manufactured Coca-Cola products contained pesticides such as DDT and malathion. According to the CSE, Indian produced Coca-Cola products pesticide levels 30 times greater than what is allowed by European Union regulations.

    Coca-Cola has also been accused of placing bottling plants in areas suffering from drought. In 2004, officials in the Indian state of Kerala shut down a Coca-Cola bottling plant, accusing the company of polluting and dangerously reducing available water to farmers and villages.

    The numerous Coca-Cola machines and products littered all over this campus are a reminder of the atrocities that this university regrettably endorses. The University of Illinois is currently locked in a five year exclusive contract with Coca-Cola that is set to expire in 2007. Groups on this campus such as the Graduate Employees’ Organization and the UIUC Coalition Against Coke Contracts (http://caccuc.blogspot.com/) have already endorsed plans to terminate the university’s contract with Coca-Cola.

    I implore everyone to vote with their dollars and stop purchasing Coca-Cola and Coke products such as Powerade, Dasani and Fanta. As students of this university we have a huge stake in the values that this campus represents. As long as this University continues to sell Coca-Cola products, each and every student, employee and alumnus are endorsing assassination, torture and pollution.

    So the next time you decide to have an ice-cold Coke with your lunch, think about everything that Coca-Cola is responsible for. Instead of cherry or vanilla Coke, imagine flavors such as Colombian blood or Indian pesticide and see if you are still thirsty.

    Eric Naing is a senior in LAS. His column appears on Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected].