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The Coca-Cola Case: Sickly sweet

Sickly sweet

Coke: Bad buzz?

New doc The Coca-Cola Case warns us not to drink Coke's potion

Civil war vet and pharmacist John Pemberton’s cola concoction is making a killing all over the world. Today, Coke is a soft-drink giant that includes 400 brands (including filtered bottled water) and makes more profit than Microsoft, IBM and GE. In its quest to dominate the global beverage industry, Coke has done business with the Nazis, marketed its products to kids in U.S. schools, allegedly drained groundwater from drought-stricken areas in India and developed questionable management practices.

It’s this last aspect of Coke’s global operation that’s the crux of The Coca-Cola Case, a new NFB doc by local filmmakers German Gutierrez and Carmen Garcia that kicks off a 17-city Canadian tour this week by Cinema Politica. The film follows a groundbreaking U.S. federal court case against Coca-Cola that alleged the company is responsible for the murder and kidnapping of union members in Colombia and Guatemala, where hundreds of workers and their family members have been intimidated and/or illegally detained by violent paramilitaries, often working closely with plant managements.

The suit and film have generated bad buzz around the Coke brand, and the company has sent letters to try to block Cinema Politica and the NFB from showing the film, citing confidentiality issues.

Coke, which sells their syrup concentrate to bottlers around the world, argues they don’t have a controlling interest in their bottlers. But the trick is, they keep their ownership stakes just below 50 percent (particularly in unstable countries) in order to avoid getting hit with any debt, or unpleasant liabilities.

While the doc narrows in on the intricacies of the three-year saga fought by U.S. lawyers Daniel Kovalik and Terry Collingsworth, and highlights the activist antics of Ray Rogers (who spearheaded the Killer Coke campaign), the most compelling and telling scenes take place when two Colombian teens who deliver Coke tell their story. They make $1 an hour and work 15 hour/day shifts. They rent the trucks, buy the gas and their uniforms, and pay out-of-pocket if bottles are broken or stolen. They fear for their lives, especially if they ask for better working conditions.

These legal battles against multinationals like Coke and Dole don’t always succeed, but they do prove there aren’t nearly enough checks on the operational behaviours and responsibilities of our Western multinationals abroad.

The Coca-Cola Case
Jan. 18, at Concordia (Room H-110, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W) at 7:30 p.m

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  • by David St Pierre - January 18, 2010, 9:48 pm

    “Coke” as evil empire? Not much of a stretch I dare say. Any multinational in a poor country likely exerts undue sway from a socio-political standpoint and if this tends towards corporate malfeasance and worker exploitation, well, it’s not really all that scandalous (hello, Nike!). That it extends to murder, though, is not just shocking but gallingly unacceptable. And it’s not like “Coke” can feign ignorance as they’ve adopted an ownership policy in such impoverished and troubled locales with an eye towards quasi-legally distancing themselves from such dubious dealings. But, make no mistake, that doesn’t absolve them of culpability – if anything such shady policies are tantamount to an awareness of what’s going on, effectively rendering “Coke” an accessory to murder.

  • by Mark St Pierre - January 20, 2010, 1:10 am

    Whew, am I ever glad that I’m part of the Pepsi generation! Not to make light of this unfortunate state of affairs but multinational corporations, especially those as monolithic as Coke act with something approaching total impunity. Still I never would have guessed that Coke, what with it’s squeaky clean public image and advertising campaigns, would ever be nearly this nefariously self-serving. Monsanto, any of the big Pharma companies, etc. – sure, they find themselves in the thick of litigation and dubious business practices all the time – no surprise there but Coke which is little more than syrupy, sugared water – wtf? Who would’ve thought that something so seemingly benign and innocuous as a soft-drink could be nearly so insidious?!?

  • by Pedro Eggers - January 20, 2010, 6:00 pm

    By definition multinational corporations are evil because their dominion rest on a principle of survival and profit, not individual or local need. I’ve traveled a bit and I can say that in South America the changes are stark indeed from my youth. Corporations appropriate and contaminate the areas they buy up, making them their own and thus altering the local culture and the things that they value. Big companies cannot rise without standing on a few broken bones and even more promises. That’s just the way it is. All those labels we wear and trust might as well be covered in the blood and sweat of the poorer nations. If any of you need further proof of how crooked the world is go watch The Corporation.

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