True, paramilitaries have killed Coke employees – but there is no evidence that Coke ordered the killings or was in any way involved. In fact, Coca-Cola doesn’t even own the plant at which the employees worked. Coke provides the syrup, which bottling plants all over Colombia then mix to create the actual drink. And the police have yet to convict anyone within Coca-Cola, even though the killings occurred years ago.
Colombia, Nation of Chaos
Conveniently forgotten in the midst of these allegations is the context. Colombia is in the midst of a decades-long civil war. There are countless paramilitary groups in Colombia, ranging from drug rings, unions (yes, unions), the private armies of the powerful, corrupt “revolutionary” groups, roving bands of cutthroats, and numerous others. In short, Colombia is a nation in abject chaos.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the unionists at the plant were government targets as well. After all, Colombian unions are often complicit with many of the militant groups. In an article back in 2000, LeMonde quoted one union organizer about concerns that the unions were “tied up” with the guerillas:
“There are different ways of being with the guerillas. By being involved, by collaborating, or by sympathizing. They’ve chosen their way of doing things, we’ve chosen ours. But they’re not upsetting the workers’ movement. They’re supporting it.”
Sure they are. The guerillas are "true servants of the people." (Yawn). They’ve certainly made life better for everyone in Colombia these past 40 years.
And if the Colombian unions are wings of guerilla groups, and guerilla groups are fronts for drug operations, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to wonder whether or not the killings were gang-related.
Coke Allegations Nothing New
Beyond just the allegations of murder, Killer Coke supporters have broadened the franchise by alleging Coke is deliberately using unclean water and other chemicals in its soft drinks. This is a hackneyed tactic. In 1999 the controversy focused on supposedly over-carbonated Coke soft drinks in Belgium. After a few students complained of illness, consumer advocates leveled accusations at Coke. Soon after, hundreds of students fell ill. They all mysteriously recovered after an investigation revealed normal levels of carbonation in Coke products.
In India, politicians have been very quick to join the Killer Coke campaign, and Coke has been banned in several states already. Even though 60% of India’s population remains without clean water, India’s politicians have no qualms about spending a great deal of time with witch hunts -- er, inquiries -- regarding the purity of water in soft-drink products. Unsurprisingly, the only companies reviewed are huge multi-nationals, like Coke.
Indian columnist Barun Mitra was quite astute when he recently remarked in the Hindustan Times:
“Far from being concerned about the safety of their citizens, political leaders find it easy to target soft drink manufacturers, particularly MNCs [multi-national corporations]. This is the lowest cost strategy for politicians to express their concern, and deflect attention from the real problems concerning the people.”
Thankfully, the Killer Coke lunacy hasn’t gained any traction with Main Street America -- the biggest hindrance being real facts, naturally. The danger, of course, is that more people will begin to believe in the bogeymen that Rogers and others create -- bogeymen that have the power to seriously harm business, and ultimately, consumers and employees.