April 22, 2004
Has Coca-Cola ever been destroying its goodwill with American youth faster than now. I've been noting rumors on the net mounting for several months now, but rumors are rumors. But then this is part of the description of what happened at its annual shareholders meeting earlier in the week
The charges about the company's Colombia operations were raised in 2001 when the International Labor Rights Fund sued in U.S. District Court in Miami on behalf of a murdered worker at Coca-Cola's Panamco bottling plant. The suit claimed the Coca-Cola did nothing to stop paramilitary groups' sometimes violent intimidation, and even murder, of Coca-Cola's bottling workers who were interested in unionizing.
The judge in the case ruled that Coca-Cola did not have sufficient control over its bottling plants to be liable in the case, and dismissed the company as a defendant. The labor rights group filed an amended complaint on Monday, again naming Coca-Cola, since it bought the Colombia bottling plant last May.
But it was yesterday that the issue really came into public view.
The annual meeting started with the typical introductory remarks from Daft, including the news that Coca-Cola made $1.13 billion, or 46 cents a share, in first quarter -- the first time the company has ever reported a quarterly profit of more than $1 billion.
When he opened the floor to shareholders, anti-Coca-Cola activist Ray Rogers was first to the microphone and he raised the situation in Colombia.
"All the evidence shows the Coca-Cola system is rife with immorality, corruption and complicity in gross human rights violations," he said, according to the company's webcast of the meeting. He accused Daft of lying and continued for several minutes, even after being asked to step aside.
Then, his microphone was shut off and hotel security personnel removed him from the room, although Coca-Cola executives were heard asking security to "stand down."
After Rogers was hauled off, Daft turned to another executive on the dais and muttered, "We shouldn't have done that." But it wasn't over. Other activists later took the floor on the same issue. Students from New York University and Rutgers University made claims similar to Rogers's, if more quietly.
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