30th January 2004
On Wednesday 19th of November the students in UCD reaffirmed in a referendum their decision to boycott Coca Cola products and remove them from shops and bars owned or managed by the Students Union. The decision had already been taken in a previous referendum where they voted by a narrow margin to introduce the boycott. A second referendum was necessary because a group of right wing students collected sufficient signatures to call for a rerun.
The Coca Cola company itself was not to be found ignoring this matter. They dispatched their Director of Communications in Latin America, Rafael Fernandez Quiros to Ireland to lobby students, political parties and to meet with the trade union that represents Coke workers in Ireland - Siptu.
Coke have admitted in these private meetings to be “concerned” (read very worried/scared) at the scope of the boycott in Ireland. So much so, for the first time ever Coca Cola agreed to publicly debate the issues on the Pat Kenny Show. This had never happened before and due to Mr Fernandez’s poor performance on the show, it probably won’t happen again.
The boycott has not just been limited to UCD. Sandino’s bar in Derry and the John Hewitt Bar in Belfast have both stopped stocking coke products and the union at the Royal Victoria Hospital has agreed to ask management to no longer stock coke products. Alongside that, a referendum is being organised in Trinity and a couple of other universities are seriously considering it.
Ireland is of strategic importance to Coca Cola, its largest concentrate factories are here in Drogheda and Ballina and supply practically all of the concentrate used in European bottling plants. Hence, Coke’s real fear at the spread of a boycott in Ireland.
The boycott in Ireland is part of an international one that was called for by the union Sinaltrainal and has the backing of the congress of trade unions in Colombia (CUT), the Latin American Social Forum and also the World Social Forum. The union itself has received support from the United Steel Workers Assoc in the United States which is taking the case against Coke in the US courts.
The court case revolves around some sample cases of the type of abuses that have been alleged against Coca Cola. To date eight Coca Cola trade unionists have been murdered, however the case before the US courts deals with the murder of one them Isidro Segundo Gil. In this particular case there are a number of undisputed facts; a) Segundo Gil was murdered INSIDE the Coca Cola plant b) the plant manager had prior to his murder publicly stated that he would use the paramilitaries to smash the union.
The other cases before the courts revolve around false terrorist charges brought against the leadership of the union by the Coca Cola bottling plant in the city of Bucaramanga and also the threats and torture of other trade unionists.
Of the 3,600 trade unionists murdered since 1986 when the CUT was founded, not one prosecution has been taken against anyone. This is why the Sinaltrainal union which has tried to get redress through the Colombian courts had to go to the US courts under the Alien Torts Act and why it also had to call for a boycott. The Colombian justice system protects murderers and torturers and no justice can be expected there. Consumers and institutions have the power to bring pressure to bear by boycotting all Coke products, which include Coke, Fanta, Lilt, Sprite, BPM etc. Just check the label, or if it is in a fridge marked Coca Cola then all products in that fridge should be Coke products as they don’t allow their fridges to be used for other companies products.