By Esther Vivas
Every second 18,500 cans or bottles of Coca-Cola are consumed worldwide, according to data from the company itself. The Coca-Cola Empire sells its 500 brands in more than 200 countries. Who would have told John S. Pemberton, when in 1886, he designed such a successful concoction in a small Atlanta pharmacy. Today, however, the multinational no longer sells just one drink but much more. Through a checkbook and multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, Coca-Cola sells us something as precious as “happiness”, “the spark of life” or “a smile”. However, not even his Coca-Cola Happiness Institute is able to hide all the pain that the company causes. His curriculum of social and labor abuses travels, like his soft drinks, all over the planet.
Now, it is the turn of the Spanish State. The company has just announced an Employment Regulation File that implies the closure of four of its eleven plants, the dismissal of 1,250 workers and the relocation of another 500. A measure that is taken, according to the multinational, "for organizational and productive reasons ”. A CCOO statement, on the other hand, denies this claim, and points out that the company has huge profits of around 900 million euros and a turnover of more than 3,000 million.
The company's bad practices are as global as its brand. In Colombia, since 1990, eight Coca-Cola workers have been killed by paramilitaries and 65 more have received death threats, according to the War on Want organization's "Coca-Cola alternative report". The Colombian union Sinaltrainal has denounced that the multinational is behind these actions. In 2001, Sinaltrainal, through the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steel Workers Union, succeeded in bringing a lawsuit against the company in the United States for these cases. In 2003, the court dismissed the petition on the grounds that the killings took place outside the United States. The Sinaltrainal campaign, however, had already garnered many supporters.
Coca-Cola's abuse trail can be found in practically every corner of the planet where it has a presence. In Pakistan, in 2001, several workers at the Punjab plant were fired for protesting, and attempts to organize their workers in Lahore, Faisal and Gujranwala ran into obstacles from the multinational and the administration. In Turkey, its employees denounced Coca-Cola in 2005 for intimidation and torture and for using a special branch of the police for such purposes. In Nicaragua, the same year, the Single Union of Workers (SUTEC) accused the multinational of not allowing the union organization and threatening dismissals. And similar cases are found in Guatemala, Russia, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Panama. One of the main attempts to coordinate an international denunciation campaign against Coca-Cola was in 2002 when unions from Colombia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the Philippines jointly denounced the repression suffered by their unionists at Coca-Cola and the threats of kidnappings and murders they received.
Although the company is not only known for its labor abuses but also for the social and ecological impact of its practices. As she herself admits: “Coca-Cola is the hydration company. Without water, there is no business ”. And it sucks every last drop wherever it is installed. In fact, to produce one liter of Coca-Cola, three liters of water are required. And not only for your drink but to wash bottles, machinery ... Water that is later discarded as contaminated water, with the consequent environmental damage. To quench its thirst - a Coca-Cola bottler can consume up to a million liters of water per day - the company unilaterally takes control of aquifers that supply local communities, leaving them without a commodity as essential as water.
In India, several states (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra) are on the warpath against the multinational. Several official documents point out the drastic decrease in water resources wherever it has been installed, ending with water for consumption, personal hygiene and agriculture, the livelihood of many families. In Kerala, in 2004, Coca-Cola's Plachimada plant was forced to close after the city council denied the renewal of its license accusing the company of depleting and polluting its water. Months earlier, the Kerala High Court ruled that Coca-Cola's massive extraction of water was illegal. Its closure was a great victory for the community.
Similar cases have occurred in El Salvador and Chiapas, among others. In El Salvador, the installation of Coca-Cola bottling plants have depleted water resources after decades of extraction and have contaminated aquifers by disposing of untreated water from these plants. The multinational has always refused to take responsibility for the impact of its practices. In Mexico, the company has privatized numerous aquifers, leaving local communities without access to them, thanks to the unconditional support of the Government of Vicente Fox (2000-2006), former president of Coca-Cola Mexico.
The impact of its secret formula on our health is also extensively documented. Its high doses of sugar do not benefit us and make us "addicted" to its concoction. And the use of aspartame, a non-caloric sugar substitute sweetener, in Coca-Cola Zero, has been shown, as the journalist Marie Monique Robin points out in her documentary 'Our daily poison', that consumed in high doses can be carcinogenic. In 2004, Coca-Cola in Britain was forced to recall Dasani bottled water after its launch, after illegal levels of bromide, a substance that increases the risk of cancer, was discovered in its contents. The company had to set aside half a million bottles, which it had advertised as "one of the purest waters on the market," despite an article in The Grocer magazine pointing out that its source was treated water from the London tap.
The tentacles of Coca-Cola, likewise, are so elongated that, in 2012, one of its directors, Ángela López de Sá, reached the leadership of the Spanish Food Safety Agency. For example, what position will the Agency have regarding the use of aspartame when the company that until two days ago paid the salary to its current director uses it systematically? Conflict of interests? We mentioned it before with the case of Vicente Fox. The brand that tells us to sell happiness rather distributes nightmares.
Coca-Cola is like that, says the ad. So it is and so we have told you.