At Coke’s annual shareholders’ meeting, labor rights activist Ray Rogers, confronted Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Douglas Daft, citing the murder of two union leaders who filed suit in a federal court in Florida, alleging Coke contracted with paramilitary death squads to torture, kidnap, and murder union leaders at its bottling plants in Colombia. Rogers joins us in our firehouse studio. [includes rush transcript]
On the morning of December 5, 1996, two men on a motorcycle arrived at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Antioquia, Colombia, where according to eyewitnesses they breezed past a guardhouse at the factory’s front gate and onto plant grounds. The men approached Isidro Gil, head of the plant’s union of bottling employees, and in plain sight of his co-workers shot him ten times, mortally wounding him. Just one hour later, another top union officer was kidnapped from his home, and that evening the union’s offices were ransacked and burned to the ground. Two days later, after gunmen with the Colombian paramilitary group A.U.C. threatened further violence against employees, plant managers distributed union resignation forms to workers. All of them signed the forms.
In July of 2001, the union representing Colombia’s Coca-Cola employees filed suit in a federal court in Florida, alleging Coke contracted with paramilitary death squads to torture, kidnap, and murder union leaders at its bottling plants. Though the lawsuit was initially thrown out, charges of collusion with Colombian paramilitaries continue to dog the company. An amended version of the lawsuit was filed this month with the same federal court in Miami, and at Coke’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Wilmington, Deleware last Wednesday, Coke Chairman and CEO Douglas Daft went on the defensive, telling investors that his company had no role in the killings.
But Coca-Cola’s denial would not go unchallenged. Following Douglas Daft’s denial of culpability, the floor was opened to comments from the assembled shareholders.
- Ray Rogers, director of Corporate Campaign confronts Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Douglas Daft at a shareholder’s meeting April 21, 2004.
Ray Rogers continued his critique for several more minutes before his microphone was cut off and security officers dragged him from the room; he joins us today in our firehouse studio.
- Ray Rogers, director of Corporate Campaign joins us in our firehouse studios.
RAY ROGERS: My name is Ray Rogers. I’m a proxy from Sharon Schneider of 3,000 shares. Like the California Public Employees Retirement Systems and institutional share holders that have withheld their votes for over nine of the directors because of conflicts of interests on the board, I also have to withhold my votes until a number of terrible wrongs are righted by this board, and I want to know what they’re going to do. After months of investigation into Coca-Cola, all evidence shows that the Coca-Cola system is rife with immorality, corruption, and complicity in gross human rights violations, including murder and torture. Mr. Daft, at Brandies University you lied, like you lied earlier today, about the situation in Colombia. You said that at no time was any Simatrinal union leader ever harmed by paramilitary security forces at any of your plants. Yet Acedro Guild was assassinated, murdered in one of your bottling plants in Colombia. The next day those same paramilitary security forces went into the plant, rounded up the workers. Coca-Cola managers in the plant had prepared resignation forms. Those workers were told that if they did not resign by 4:00 p.m. That day, they, too, would be murdered like their union officer, Acedro Hill. They all resigned in mass, and the wages in that plant went from $380 a month down to $130 a month. Congressman Monsurat in New York City went on a ten-day fact-finding tour in January. He has put on report in April, which was on the website killercoke.org (versus the Coca-Cola website, killercoke.com). That report by Monserat and the delegation that went to Colombia in January came up with one conclusion, that the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta is complicit in gross human rights violation in Colombia.
In fact, for those who do not know, you also said that the Coca-Cola Company was dismissed from the earlier tort claims lawsuit, where, as of yesterday, the Coca-Cola Company was reinstated in a lawsuit, as was Coca-Cola Femser was put in the lawsuit. And for those stockholders who do not know the basic charge of the lawsuit, let me quote one statement in the lawsuit. The lawsuit charges that Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia contracted with, or otherwise directed, paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Ray Rogers, speaking at the Coca-Cola shareholders’ meeting last Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware. He joins us in the studio right now. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, more than 3,000 Colombian trade unioners have been assassinated since 1990, making Colombia the most dangerous place in the world to organize a union. I want to ask Mario Murillo about that in a minute. The response you to at the shareholders, what happened?
RAY ROGERS: Well, I was attacked by Coca-Cola’s thugs, the security. First one came up behind me, clothes-lined me, tried to put a choke hold on me, and it didn’t work. Four of them then jumped me and pulled my legs out from under me, threw me on the floor. When they couldn’t remove me from the meeting because I refused to leave, I had a right to be there, they then had six people trying to twist me, turn me, bend my neck and literally hurt me to try to get me out of the meeting. Finally, they mentioned arrest. I said, is this the Wilmington Police or is this the Company? They said, it’s the Wilmington Police. I said, show me a badge and I won’t resist arrest. The fact of the matter is, I was not involved in disorderly conduct. The Coca-Cola Company was. And certainly, the shareholders did not have to be protected from me, the society has to be protected from companies like Coca-Cola.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a website, killercoke.org and they have a website, Coca-Cola, killercoke.com?
RAY ROGERS: That was in response to our website. Our website tells the truth and uses facts. Their website is full of lies.
AMY GOODMAN: You are the director of the New York based Corporate Campaign. What have you accomplished with this campaign?
RAY ROGERS: Well, one of the main things we’re doing is trying to cut out Coca-Cola’s markets, particularly the main markets like high schools, colleges and universities. Right now five colleges and universities have terminated major contracts with Coca-Cola. Two big universities in Ireland and three colleges here in the United States. Right now we have very powerful campaigns going on in campuses such as Rutgers University with 51,000 students, New York University and University of Massachusetts, several campuses in California and dozens of campuses all across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: But weren’t they cut out of the lawsuit, saying that they’re not responsible for their — is it their bottlers in Colombia?
RAY ROGERS: What happened was, you might call it a technicality or whatever. The judge said we had not proven that Coca-Cola was in control of the bottlers or the labor relations. The judge never gave our site any opportunity for discovery or to present the facts. In fact, Coca-Cola is in complete charge of those Colombian bottlers. And there’s a number of ways that they are in charge. Number one, they pick the boards. Number two, they own 46.4% of the voting stock of the companies, and they basically control all of the business of the companies. Coca-Cola could stop the situation in Colombia immediately if they felt necessary to do so, if they felt pressured enough. That’s what our campaign is all about.