What is really going on with Coca-Cola? There is overwhelming evidence that management at Coca-Cola’s bottling plants in Colombia routinely allows paramilitary death squads to murder, torture and kidnap union leaders and organizers. Since 1989, nine Colombian Coke workers have been assassinated by paramilitaries acting in collusion with management, and 67 have received death threats. Other union-busting tactics include mass dismissal of pro-union workers. Management has used these tactics to intimidate workers from being part of the union Sinaltrainal. Recently, on Monday, April 19, the family of Efrain Guerrero was murdered in the midst of union contract negotiations. This violent and tragic event reminds us that while Coke can claim innocence, the murders continue to happen.
So what does this mean to UC students? Because university campuses are an ideal demographic for Coke’s marketing, students have the potential to draw attention to these issues and ultimately force Coke to change. UCSB currently has an eight-year contract issuing Coca-Cola an almost exclusive monopoly over our campus. Student Lobby Labor Coalition is currently working with other UCs and universities across the nation to put pressure on our schools to further investigate these issues.
Do college students really have the ability to change a major corporation like Coke? Human rights abuses violate our university ethical codes, and it is our role as students to speak out against Coca-Cola’s practices and urge our administrations to take action. Past success stories indicate that major contracts with corrupt corporations like Coca-Cola have given college students the leverage to force change. After consistent pressure from anti-sweatshop activists, Nike now claims some level of responsibility for all of the workers in its supply chains.
The UCSB student government recently passed a unanimous resolution indicating its concern regarding these issues and urging UCSB and other UCs to investigate Coke’s alleged human rights violations. At a recent conference at UC Berkley, a UC-wide meeting expressed the decision to seek an investigation of Coke’s crimes in Columbia. Such an investigation will be conducted by our official university investigators.
This is an extremely crucial time to put student pressure on Coke to change. For the next three Thursdays, there will be documentaries regarding these issues in Phelps 3505 at 6 p.m. Professors and students will speak about the implications of these issues, the UC involvement in the situation and how UCSB students can get involved. In addition, there will be a large demonstration May 20.
Ashleigh Talberth is an economics and global studies major.