Estudiantes sin Fronteras showed a documentary last week called “Killer Coke” in order to inform the campus about the Coca-Cola Company and its human rights abuses on its workers. After the film, students were encouraged to boycott Coca-Cola on and off campus and to sign a petition if they agreed with the cause. Coca-Cola has already been banned on 45 campuses internationally.
While the documentary mentioned Coca-Cola’s connection to Nazi Germany and its involvement with the Hitler Youth, as well as the fact that Coca-Cola often discriminated against and would not hire African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, one of the main focuses of the documentary was the company’s violence against its workers in Colombia.
Groups of paramilitaries in Colombia, specifically a group called the Black Eagles, target and kill trade unionists or people trying to start unions. The documentary’s narrator, Mark Thomas, said, “Black Eagles killed nine men working for Coca-Cola bottling plants specifically because those men belong to a union.” The Black Eagles threaten “death, torture, cut[ting] into pieces,” and ask for the protests of the workers to end. A letter from the Black Eagles stated, “We give you the opportunity to leave the country. We combat guerrilla and communist ideology with death.”
“Paramilitaries kill about 200 [trade-unionists] a year, including Coca-Cola employees,” the documentary stated. One man interviewed for the documentary gave his account, “I was delivering Coca-Cola when two men came out and put a gun to my head and told me my time had come. The owner of the shop saved my life because he pulled my shirt and pulled me into the shop.”
Another accusation against the Coca-Cola Company is that they employ children in El Salvador. Sugarcane cut by these Salvadoran youths, who are under 18, goes directly to the Coca-Cola Company in a place where people who work in the fields are legally required be at least 18. The International Labor Organization estimates that as many as 30,000 children miss school to work in El Salvador’s sugarcane industry.
The Coca-Cola Company, however, said, “Coca-Cola firmly opposes child labor. 9,000 children have been removed from cane fields. We only buy from mills that adhere to our standards.”
Thomas traveled to a sugarcane field in El Salvador, and as the camera crew for the documentary approached, he said, “Warnings [were] yelled for underage boys to flee, but to act casually as they go.”
Another focus of the film was the impact the company has on the environment. Water depletion in many areas where Coca-Cola is made and bottled presents major problems because two and a half liters of water are used to make each liter of Coca-Cola. The towns in Latin American countries where Coca-Cola factories are built that have the money to test the water supplies and the effect of the company on the local water found, the documentary stated, that the biodegradable waste and chemicals in the water was five times higher than the admissible level. People who live in these towns no longer feel safe drinking the water.
Whether or not a boycott would actually get Coca-Cola off campus is based on revenue. Helmut Mayer, Director of Dining Services, said that it would take a noticeable decline in Coca-Cola sales, not a petition, to remove it from campus. “You would lose money,” said Mayer. “The vending machines bring in revenue. The biggest loss would be in the C-store. The C-store makes roughly one million dollars a year.” Most other drink machines on campus, like those in the cafeteria and the Gizmo, are Pepsi-owned, not Coca-Cola.
While Mayer does not oppose students not drinking Coca-Cola, he says that unless sales of it decline dramatically in the C-store, it will need to stay on campus for the money it brings. “If [sales declined], I’d try to find why and try to find something else to replace it. If there would be a way to eliminate all soda, I’d do it in a second,” he said.
Students can find information about the Killer Coke campaign at killercoke.org.