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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