COKE ASSAILED FOR ALLEGED LABOUR BRUTALITY
The Hamilton Spectator [A2 - Tuesday, December 11, 2001]
Human rights and labour activists want McMaster University to urge Coca-Cola to clean up its conduct in Colombia.
The McMaster-based Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) held a small, peaceful demonstration on campus yesterday, International Human Rights Day.
Members of OPIRG and the United Steelworkers of America poured a bottle of Coke into a metal pail covered with the names of Colombian Coca-Cola workers they say have been murdered or jailed for being members of a union, Sinaltrainal. The Coke represents workers' blood.
OPIRG member Murray Lumley later handed the pail to Mary Keyes, associate vice-president, student affairs. She promised to relay their message to McMaster president Peter George.
In 1998 McMaster signed a 10-year multi-million dollar agreement to sell only Coca-Cola products on campus. The company will contribute towards operating costs of the new student centre and has provided money for scholarships and new score boards.
OPIRG hopes McMaster can use its influence with Coca-Cola to secure human rights for Colombian workers. The group is not asking for a boycott.
A lawsuit filed in Florida accuses Coca-Cola, its Colombian subsidiary and business affiliates of using paramilitary forces to murder, torture and kidnap union leaders. Two OPIRG members went to Colombia last August and heard accounts of labour organizers being terrorized.
But Coca-Cola spokesperson Wendy Kubota said the allegations are untrue.
"The Coca-Cola Company does not conduct business in this manner," Kubota said. "We believe this action is nothing more than an effort to garner publicity and besmirch the reputation of the company and its partners."
A company statement says it does not condone the abuse of individuals' human rights anywhere in its system.