Not only is it bad for you, it's also a terrible corporate citizen. Ranked among the Top 10 Worst Companies of 2004, Coca-Cola has been linked to several major human rights violations.
If you read this and agree, remember that Coke not only has all of its soft drink products (Sprite, Mello Yello, Mr. Pibb, Fanta, Barq's), but also:
Dasani bottled water
Evian bottled water
Minute Maid juices
Seagram's Ginger Ale
Odwalla juice drinks (so sad!)
Coca-Cola: KillerCoke.org vs. CokeKills.org
On KillerCoke.org, you'll find a raft of information on Coke and its bottlers' operations in Colombia. There is extensive documentation of rampant violence committed against Coke's unionized workforce by paramilitary forces, and powerful claims of the company's complicity in the violence.
An April 2004 report from a fact-finding delegation headed by New York City Council member Hiram Monserrate contends:
"To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so."
"Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers."
Allegations such as these formed the basis of a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers of America in U.S. courts against Coke on behalf of a Colombian trade union and union leader victims of violence at Coke bottling facilities in Colombia.
In 2003, a federal court dismissed the claims against Coke, arguing that its relationship with the owners of the Coke bottling plant in Colombia was too attenuated to hold the soft drink multinational responsible for human rights abuses at the plant. The plaintiffs have since refiled their complaint – they argue the original decision was mistaken, but that Coke's subsequent purchase of the Colombia bottlers means the company is now clearly responsible for the bottlers' actions.
Strangely, for the response to KillerCoke.org, you can check out CokeKills.org. That site, which is operated by Coke, redirects you to CokeFacts.org.
Here's what Coke has to say:
"The pervasive violence in Columbia, and the targeting of union members by its perpetrators, has, unfortunately, touched The Coca-Cola Company in a very personal way. Employees of our Company and bottling partners in Colombia have been threatened, kidnapped, and some have even been murdered ... In a lawsuit in Colombia, the court concluded that the bottler not only took proper steps to initiate investigation by the authorities, but went further to enhance its workers' safety by heightening security at the plant."
Leave aside for the moment the issue of Coke's legal liability. The idea that Coke can't control the behavior of its bottlers is simply implausible. It can control them if it so chooses – just the way that clothing retailers can control the actions of their manufacturers, but even more so.
Instructive in raising questions about Coke's good-faith concern for its workers is its unwillingness to support an independent investigation into the Colombia allegations – even after the company's former General Counsel, and the former assistant U.S. attorney general, Deval Patrick, had committed to one. Coke's refusal to authorize an investigation reportedly contributed to Patrick's decision to resign from the corporation.
You can also listen to Bobby Kennedy interview Ray Rogers from Killer Coke here.