COCA-COLA continues to violate the fundamental rights of workers in Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland and the US.
In Haiti, Coke’s bottler La Brasserie de la Couronne continues to systematically deny workers their right to form and be represented by a union, SYTBRACOUR.
Haiti is a dangerous place to live and to work. Companies should, at a minimum, be alert to this situation and exercise maximum due diligence. In July 2019, a Coca-Cola truck driver was shot dead in his vehicle while at work.
The Coca-Cola Company has made no meaningful independent investigation of this killing, choosing instead to rely on a version of events provided by their local bottler, which sought to shift the blame onto the driver.
Subsequent investigations into this case have exonerated the driver and exposed a callous disregard for the truth on the part of the Coca-Cola bottler and The Coca-Cola Company.
In Indonesia, Coca-Cola bottler Amatil pursues its long-running attack on the rights of independent, democratic trade unions.
In Ireland, The Coca-Cola Company closed two of its directly owned concentrate plants, both of which were strongly unionised, and shifted production to the remaining plant in Ballina, where it refuses to engage in collective bargaining with the SIPTU trade union.
Coke’s rejection of collective bargaining rights flies in the face of an Irish Labour Court recommendation that SIPTU should be able to ‘engage with the company to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment on behalf of its members’.
Coke management in Ballina refuses to accept this recommendation to recognise the union’s collective bargaining rights.
In the US, the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England spent more than 330,000 US dollars hiring a union-busting consultancy firm to persuade workers at its Greenfield bottling plant not to join the RWDSU/UFCW.
According to The Coca-Cola Company’s human rights report 2016-2017: ‘At The Coca-Cola Company, we respect our employees’ right to join, form, or not join a labour union without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or harassment.’
Publicly available Bennett Law Firm documents describe how this works in practice: ‘We represented management at employee meetings with the objective of persuading subject group of employees at Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England in Greenfield, Massachusetts to remain union-free.’
The Coca-Cola Company will only act to remedy these multiple human rights violations when it feels that the brand name is threatened by public exposure of its record.
- National uprisings against poverty, inequality and austerity have flared across Latin America and the world in recent months, taking by surprise governments insulated from the institutionalised misery they preside over, writes the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural and Allied Workers Associations).
The uprisings’ outcome is undecided: in Chile, millions of people continue to take to the streets, unwilling to renounce their struggle against an entire social order in return for minor concessions.
But in the impoverished nation of Haiti, a determined popular mobilisation has continued for over a year, refusing to bow to violence and hunger even as the situation becomes increasingly desperate.
In October last year, a mass movement emerged demanding the government be held to account for the disappearance of billions of dollars of state funds.
The US-backed government of Jovenel Moïse, ‘elected’ in a 2016 farce marked by fraud and a voter turnout of less than 20%, has responded only with relentless violence.
Moïse and his family and cronies are directly implicated in massive corruption and the organisation of paramilitary violence, generally ascribed to ‘gangs’ but organised in the presidential palace. The people’s already scanty purchasing power has declined by half under his rule.
While Moïse refuses to step down, the entire state apparatus has evaporated; only organised violence and racketeering remain. Haiti has no functioning hospitals, schools, courts, or parliament, no fuel and no foreign exchange to pay for the food imports on which it depends.
Haiti’s capacity to feed itself was destroyed in the failed attempt to make the country a giant export processing zone when neo-liberalism was forcibly grafted onto entrenched networks of corruption.
Foreign-owned businesses are shutting and fleeing. Hunger, disease and death stalk the country. Yet resistance continues.
Opposition to foreign intervention is seared deep into the national consciousness, a product of the rebellion against French colonialism, the US invasion and occupation of 1915 (which introduced conscripted labour) and the 1991 coup which overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.
The country has still to recover from the 2010 earthquake which killed some 220,000 people and displaced over a million. United Nations peacekeepers brought cholera and target practice on the urban poor for the Brazil-based peacekeeping force; NGOs brought sex trafficking.
Political parties, which traditionally have functioned as patronage networks backed by foreign powers, have zero credibility in Haiti today. The political meltdown is as complete as the social collapse, which the expression ‘humanitarian crisis’ barely captures.
On October 10th, a broad coalition of some 150 non-party civil society organisations issued a platform of measures to meet the crisis through a Passage (Passerelle) of democratic transition.
Among the signatories are 51 trade union organisations, including the national centres affiliated to the ITUC, the leading employer organisations, peasant associations and youth, student, religious and civil rights organisations.
The Passage demands, among other measures, the immediate departure of the president and the non-functioning parliament, revision of the electoral system, and measures to ensure civil society oversight of eventual elections as well as emergency action to deal with the social and economic collapse.
The situation is volatile, and politics in Haiti is fraught with manipulation. The country needs massive support, but not the ‘assistance’ of past years.
The people of Haiti know very well what they don’t want. Union participation in and support for the Passerelle indicates a path for international solidarity.
‘The IUF affirms its full solidarity with our affiliate SYTBRANA and with the many unions in Haiti and their civil society allies seeking an internal solution to the crisis, and urges the international trade union movement to support our sisters and brothers fighting through their unions to stave off collapse and rebuild their country on new foundations,’ their statement concludes.