Friday 24 April 2009

Formerly Known As Innocent

I wanted to reproduce the following from the brilliant and lovely Mark Thomas, in response to the decision by the supposedly ethical and fluffy Innocent Drinks [makers of expensive smoothies] to take a £30 million investment from Coca Cola:

Hi Richard,

I just wanted to drop you a note regarding your new found partnership with Coca Cola. An acquaintance mailed you earlier today and passed your response on to me. There are some fundamental factual inaccuracies and ignorance in your reply. You wrote:

"As a business, Coke are definitely not perfect (although it is worth saying that independent judicial enquiries at the time found that the Columbia (sic) allegations to be unfounded, the same with India water although I am nervous about saying these things as it makes it sound like I am here to represent Coke, which I am not). But they do show a relatively good track record in learning and making good on the things
they get things wrong. And the people we've met have been decent, ordinary folk."

The allegations against Coca Cola in Colombia are simple: trade unionists working for the company have been intimidated and murdered, in one case Isidro Segundo Gil was killed inside the plant, virtually under the Coca Cola logo, to this day Coca Cola have not had any independent investigation into the allegation that managers of the bottling plants in Colombia colluded with or directed the para military death squads. The murders happened over 12 years ago.

Your response states that "independent judicial enquiries at the time found that the Colombia allegations to be unfounded," What independent judicial enquiries are you referring to? The Colombian judicial system has managed to investigate, prosecute and convict about 1% of the trade unionist murders, out of thousands. So any investigations conducted in Columbia are hardly independent and barely qualify as enquiries.

Or do you refer to the USA court case? Here the Alien Tort Claims Act is being used to try and get the Colombian bottlers and the parent company in the dock. But it can't be that one as initially the case was found to be inadmissible (though it is being appealed), so this is obviously not the 'independent judicial enquiries' that you refer to, is it?

So what 'independent judicial enquiries" are you referring to?

You do not mention the fact that the Coca Cola Company tried to silence the Colombian trade unionists who brought the case against them in the USA. Coke offered to settle out of court to the tune of about $13 million on condition that they give up their jobs working in the Coke bottling plants and that the trade unionists never ever criticise Coke nor any other company that work with Coke in the future. Had the trade unionists signed and taken the $13 million they would break the terms of the settlement and be liable to court action if they criticised you Richard.

Neither do you mention the trade union busting of the company bottlers. The cases of Coke plant managers falsifying evidence against trade unionists, accusing them of terrorism. resulting in innocent men wrongly imprisoned for 6 months before the charges against them being dismissed.

You do not mention the fact that over some 15 years the company bottlers have gone from about 80% of the work force being in permanent employment with 20% casual labour to the situation we now find, where 20% of the work force is permanent and 80% casualised with no rights to even join a trade union.

Richard, I have spent some time in Colombia interviewing and taking testimony from people who witnessed Isidro Segundo Gil's murder to the delivery men who are not allowed to join a union. I am happy for you to have all of these interviews and for you to review them and see for yourself. I can even put you in touch with the people themselves , so if you wish you can visit Colombia and talk to them face to face, I think you would find them decent ordinary folk.

And so onto India, there are many stories here but let us stay with the stories about the Company opening plants (in a water intensive industry) in water sensitive areas with with little or no regard for the communities who find their water compromised and depleted. Once again you say independent judicial enquiries have found claims unfounded. Once again I ask what independent judicial enquiries?

Firstly there are four plants where Cokes operations have put the local community water in danger, in Kerala, near Jaipur and two in Uttra Pradesh. Two of these four plants have been shut down after protests and legal challenges. Coke were forced to close these plants.

The two remaining plants are near Jaipur and near Varanasi, neither plants have had judicial enquiries that found any claims of water depletion unfounded. So I am at a loss as to what judicial enquiries you refer to.

Happily for you Richard I have spent time in India too, and am happy for you to have access to all the interviews I have conducted with local people from all four of the plants, so you can hear for yourself what the allegations are.

Richard, you fail to mention the allegations that are raised against the company in Turkey regarding union busting or in El Salvador regarding Coke's sugar being produced with the help of child labour. Neither do you refer to the allegations of union busting in Ireland or the court findings against the company in Mexico, where they were found to be in breech of anti-monopoly law and intimidated some of the poorest shop owners.

So I am happy to send you a copy of my book which details some of these things BUT more importantly I offer to make my research and interviews on all of these issues available for you to come and peruse , so you might be able to make a more balanced comment on your partnership with the company. I do not understand how you can make comments that Coke have a "relatively good track record in learning and making good on the things they get things wrong" without considering these points.

Yours, Mark Thomas

Additional response:

Dear Richard, just seen another reply you have made to an enquiry about Smoothie and Coke, you quote the ILO report made in 2008 - referring to 'direct' employees. You say "everything suggests that conditions of work and rights applicable to direct employees [in Columbia (sic)] are duly respected." The key here is that over 15 years the ratio of direct employment to casual labour has been reversed, from 80% of the workforce that was 'direct' labour and 20% that was casualised, to the present day where 20% of the work force is direct labour and 80% is casualised. Casual labour have no rights to join a trade union. None whatsoever, I met and talked to plenty of people who testified that this is the case.

So your quote is selective and deceptive that is being used to promote a vision of the company that is simply not true. once again I am happy for you to come and see the interviews and bring your own translator if you wish to go through what these men and women say about working for the company.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Mark Thomas

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