Coke killer

Jonathon Burns

9/2/2006 12:00:08 AM - Jonathon Burns

A movement called “Killer Coke” has been getting a great deal of press in recent months by alleging that Coke has been systematically assassinating its employees in India, Colombia, Turkey, and elsewhere.

The group’s goal is ostensibly a mission of justice. Ray Rogers, founder of the New York-based Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, spoke at a Coca-Cola shareholder’s meeting in April of 2004. At the meeting, Rogers publicly accused Coke chairman Douglas Daft of lying about Coke’s actions, and asserted that Coca-Cola’s bottlers “contracted with, or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence, and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained, or otherwise silenced trade union leaders.” Since the meeting, Rogers has been hitting every news outlet that will listen, trying to get people to believe his insanity. Problem is, the media has finally begun to listen. But the truth of it is that the Killer Coke movement is really just another social responsibility shakedown.

Ray Rogers, Shakedown Artist

Ray Rogers is an old-hand as a union shakedown artist. In the 80s Rogers used his intimidation tactics against a variety of corporations, from Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. to General Electric to Hormel. Because of his abrasive, assault-style union organizing tactics, he became a pariah to American unions and fell out of favor in the mid-90s. Ever since, however, Rogers has been looking for a re-entrance onto the public stage. In the Killer Coke movement, he’s found his vehicle.

Rogers' work in the Killer Coke movement has brought him back into the good graces of unions. His hopes are to drown Coke in a tidal wave of bad press. After the water-boarding is through and Coke is broken, he thinks Coke will pay the ‘good boy’ fee and donate vast sums of money to his group, other unions, and non-governmental organizations. And after he’s through bleeding all the red out of Coke’s logo, Rogers will move on, like a parasite, to attack another big American company. Rogers doesn’t even try to hide his intentions. He openly admits his strategy is to “divide and conquer” large corporations.

Supported by secret backers in Colombia and the U.S., Rogers has been going all over the country, scaring up support for his movement. His greatest successes have been on college campuses, where lemming-like, faux do-gooders have been duped into jumping onto the Killer Coke bandwagon. Michigan State temporarily banned Coke products on its campuses last year, and Berkeley (surprise), UCLA (again, surprise), University of Connecticut, DePaul, and others stand poised to do the same.

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.