For years there has been comprehensive reporting from Colombia that trade union leaders are targeted by paramilitaries for murder and other human rights violations. Much of this violence is directed at leaders of unions at multinational firms, including the bottling plants used by the Coca-Cola Company. One union representing workers at Coca-Cola, Sinaltrainal, has sustained heavy loses of leaders who were employed by the company. Since at least 1996, Sinaltrainal has been writing letters to Coca-Cola demanding that the targeting of trade union leaders at Coca-Cola bottling plants be stopped. No action was taken by the company to prevent the open association between paramilitaries and managers of the Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. The ILRF case against Coca-Cola is on behalf of the trade union and five individual union leaders who were murdered, tortured, and/or unlawfully detained. The allegation is that the paramilitaries were brought into the bottling plants to use violence to exterminate the trade union with the specific consent of the managers of the Coca-Cola bottling plants. In this case, the connectionto companyofficials is quite direct- plant managers brought the paramilitaries into the plants for the specific purpose of terrorizing union members.
- at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Carepa, Colombia the manager appeared with
several paramilitary members before the assembled workers. He warned them to
cease their union activities or face retribution from the paramilitaries.
- when the leaders of the union persisted in their representation of workers, the
paramilitaries returned and murdered Isidro Gil, the head of the local union,
inside the plant.
- the other workers were again gathered by the plant manager and told to resign
from the union or face the same fate as Mr. Gil. All qf the union members either
resigned or fled the area.
The ILRF case raises several other specific instances in which managers from the Coca-Cola bottling plants engaged paramilitaries to torture and kidnap union leaders to discourage their trade union activities. Coca-Cola purports to have a "code of conduct" that upholds fundamental human rights in all of its operations worldwide, but is claiming in the ILRF case that Coca-Cola is not responsible for what happens in its bottling plants in Colombia. Pulling a page from the Enron playbook, Coca-Cola claims to be able to profit from its subsidiaries, but to have absolutely no responsibility to those employed by them. Coca-Cola's motion to dismiss has been pending for over a year in the U.S. District Court in Miami, Florida.
THE ALIEN TORT CLAIMS ACT - A VITAL TOOL FOR PREVENTING CORPORATIONS FROM VIOLATING FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS
By Terry Collingsworth
International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF)
733 15thStreet N.W. # 920
Washington, D.C. 20005