Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Coke’s Unfair Labor Practices Are ‘The Real Thing’

VIEWPOINT Coke’s Unfair Labor Practices Are “The Real Thing” By Mary Nagle

Coca-Cola. It’s sweet, delicious, tenaciously tempting and convenient; it’s American. Bottled perfection in a 12-ounce can. Coca-Cola is the pinnacle of democracy and capitalism – hell, as the folks in marketing tell us, it’s the “Real Thing.”

But what exactly is this “Real Thing?” Where does this mysterious liquid candy (which finds its way into the veins of millions of Americans and billions worldwide) come from? While Coca-Cola claims, “Wherever there is fun, there is always Coca-Cola,” many of Coke’s employees around the world (and at home in the U.S.) know that where there is Coca-Cola, there is hardly ever fun.

Realizing the dangerous level of oblivion surrounding Coca-Cola’s practices, I agreed to take this issue to the streets and joined the protests here in Washington, D.C., last Saturday. It was in this environment, full of 75,000 or more grandmothers, college students, environmentalists, socialists, teachers, anarchists, parents and priests – all concerned about human rights, that I participated in the first step to eradicating the problem: education.

At about 1 p.m., as scores of thousands of protesters passed us marching through the streets, my colleague Nick Laskowski (COL ’03) and I stood on the stage of a flatbed truck, dressed in nice suits. We introduced ourselves as two of Coke’s most esteemed executives: Connie McDaniel, vice president, and Douglas Daft, president and CEO. We then proceeded to welcome everyone to our “annual shareholder’s meeting.” Shaking hands and flashing toothy smiles, we bragged about the “$20 billion in revenues Coca-Cola had won in 2001,” while reminding our `shareholders,’ “that their price per share rose $1.60 in just one year.”

However, we then did what no Coke executive would dream of doing, we told the thousands of passing protesters what Coca-Cola has been doing around the world to “produce results for the shareholders.” Taking on fake snotty accents and citing statistics from globalexchange.org and laborrights.org, we bragged about Coca-Cola’s success in resisting workers’ attempts to unionize in Minute Maid factories in Florida, their outright refusal to increase the efficiency of their worldwide recycling program, their denial of basic labor rights to 20 percent of Coke employees in Guatemala and the support of Colombian paramilitary forces, which intimidate and murder Colombian union leaders. The skit ended with several activists storming the stage and drenching us in Coke, as Laskowski and I acted out dramatic melting and dying scenes. It was a huge success.

A few minutes later, as I stood dripping sweet liquid candy head to toe, a reporter from the Associated Press approached me. With a smirk he asked me, “So what exactly is your beef with Coke?”

My “beef” with Coke is precisely everything I have previously mentioned, but really the philosophy of the entire situation: Coca-Cola profits so much from our local and global communities that if Coca-Cola is going to have any influence in a community, the influence should be positive – not devastating. As long as Coca-Cola continues to take $20 billion away from the global community (and pass $55 million of it along to cDaniel and Daft), they can afford a more efficient recycling program and a unionized workforce.

As long as corporations perpetuate these human rights abuses, it is up to us, the consumers, to hold profit-driven corporations in check. Thanks to legislation propelled by the Reagan administration, government agencies that previously held the responsibility of ensuring safe and humane working conditions in American factories no longer have the jurisdiction or resources they need. As for workers overseas, their only protection lies in consumers who care about the origin of the products they purchase. It is up to us, the consumers, to let Coca-Cola know that we will not stand for their horrendous human rights violations and to educate members of our communities who are now ignorant as to Coca-Cola’s unethical activities.

Coca-Cola has afforded us a product as immaculate as a 12-ounce can of Coke, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy it. Yet, there is also no reason to sacrifice human rights, especially when this corporation’s monetary success provides it with the resources to remedy its own abuses. So what are you waiting for? The next time you put that crisp dollar bill into that Coke machine, peel off the label and mail it into Coke, along with a letter voicing your concern over any of the previously mentioned issues. I’ll be sure to send them a copy of this article.

Mary Nagle is a freshman in the College and a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee.

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