Coca-Cola, get off my campus. No more vending machines, no more cases in Pi Café, no more red-and-white umbrellas emblazoned with your logo. You are a multi-billion dollar corporation guilty of incredible human rights violations. It’s time for you to go.
On Feb. 25, a lawsuit against Coca-Cola was filed in New York on behalf of several Guatemalan trade unionists. Included among the claims against the company were rape, murder, attempted murder, and home invasion. One plaintiff, Jose Alberto Vicente Chavez, was a union leader of SITINCA (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria del Café y Bebidas Coca-Cola). As part of a “campaign of violence” perpetrated against Vicente, his son and nephew were murdered, and his daughter was gang-raped.
Another plaintiff, Jose Armando Palacios, was forced to seek asylum in the United States after enduring a series of actions designed to intimidate the union member and coerce him into relinquishing his position. He received death threats from the Personnel Manager of the Coca-Cola processing plant where he worked. He was shot at. His home was invaded and his family threatened at gunpoint. Alacios was nearly assassinated again and would have been shot had not the gunmen mistaken the man in the car just ahead for him. He fled Guatemala in 2006.
These unions are integral to life as a Coca-Cola worker in these countries. The unions advocate for reasonable work hours, fair pay, and safe working conditions. One of the largest unions, Sinaltrainal (National Organization of Food Industry Workers) was organized to combat the unfair policies of the Nestlé Company. They have since expanded their membership to workers from various Coca-Cola plants, and in 2001, they filed suit against Coca-Cola, claiming that several of their leaders had been assassinated by members of a paramilitary group at the request of the owners of the local bottling plant. In 2006, another lawsuit was filed after another union leader was murdered.
These are not the only lawsuits brought against the Coca-Cola Company. Human rights abuses have been reported at bottling and processing plants around the world in countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, China, and India. This is not a bloody trend begun and resolved in the 1970s and 1980s. It is still continuing today and the damage is very real.
Ever since the unions have begun raising awareness about the human rights issues, Coca-Cola has engaged in a series of questionable investigations into the allegations in an attempt to clear its name. In one such query, the company hired and paid a Los Angeles-based company, Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, to report on claims of “anti-union violence or intimidation at bottling plants,” an investigation which has been denounced by the international organization United Students Against Sweatshops. According to a USAS statement, Cal Safety has a “track record of missing egregious violations in high profile cases.”
Virtually none of the 3,300 drinks produced by Coca-Cola are healthy, since they are loaded with sugar and additives. Even VitaminWater, a drink marketed as a healthy alternative to sodas, has been targeted by several lawsuits for false advertising.
So why would Wesleyan want anything to do with this company?
Unfortunately, many of the products sold on-campus are made by Coca-Cola, including Sprite, Simply Lemonade, Mr. Pibb, Minute Maid, and Dasani water, just to name a few. While it is difficult to avoid these drinks, especially on a small campus where there are limited places to shop, it is not impossible to find alternatives.
There are many benefits to giving up processed drinks: namely, less sugar, less caffeine, and less cyanocobalamin (whatever that is) in your system. However, if giving up a soda habit is hard to do, there are several home-grown, all-American companies that you could take advantage of, such as Hansen’s, Blue-Sky Soda, Adirondack Beverages, and Hosmer Soda (made in Connecticut!).
I’d like to think that my school does not support companies who engage in the type of business practices that Coca-Cola does. Every choice we make as consumers, as students, and as a campus has far-reaching effects beyond caffeine highs. As a campus, we can continue to give our business to a corporation guilty of awful business practices, or we can ask for change. What will you decide?
Fine is a member of the class of 2013.