An international delegation of Coca-Cola workers staged a protest at the company’s Engaging Business Forum held in its Atlanta-based global headquarters last week.
The objective of the forum was to discuss ‘the importance of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the challenges faced by business in demonstrating respect for human rights in their business operations’.
The protest was organised by the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), an international federation of trade unions representing workers involved in the food and beverage preparation and manufacturing industry.
Coca-Cola has been accused of human rights violations in the past few years, with IUF leading the allegations, terming the company a ‘serial human rights offender’.
In Indonesia, IUF alleged that its Australian-based bottler Coca-Cola Amatil ‘systematically violated’ workers’ rights.
IUF said: “[Moreover], members of the new, independent unions are systematically harassed.”
IUF has also claimed that the Philippines local bottler Coca-Cola FEMSA has unlawfully terminated over 600 workers following the sugar tax introduction.
“The sudden, mass termination of workers not only violates workers' trade union rights, it paves the way for increased rights violations in the Coca-Cola system,” said IUF.
This is in addition to its alleged hiring of ‘third-party delivery partners’ to replace direct, permanent employees.
The protest in Atlanta is the latest move in a rising international campaign targeting Coca-Cola that involves an international coalition of over 100 trade unions and Coca-Cola union members in 32 countries.
Coca-Cola, meanwhile, stresses it has launched a Human Rights Policy and Human Rights Report.
“Respect for human rights is a fundamental value of The Coca-Cola Company. We strive to respect and promote human rights in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in our relationships with our employees, suppliers and independent bottlers,” wrote Coca-Cola in its Human Rights Policy.
“Our aim is to help increase the enjoyment of human rights within the communities in which we operate,” it added.
Commenting on the company’s human rights efforts, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey said: “Our commitment to human rights has been steadfast over the years.”
“We have and continue to develop comprehensive policies, principles and processes to help ensure human rights are respected and protected, and work to identify and address any gaps at every point of our business and along our supply chain.”
The Coca-Cola 2016-2017 Human Rights Report discusses a good deal about the company’s efforts and initiatives, and makes up 51 pages of content.
However, IUF is not convinced.
In An Exercise In Evasion, the IUF’s counter-report and analysis on the Human Rights Report, it states why it believes Coca-Cola’s claims of being ‘aligned’ with UN human rights principles are in fact ‘violations in practice’.
“IUF members represent the vast majority of unionized workers in the global Coca-Cola system. They have no need of a glossy brochure or a third-party audit to tell them whether their rights are respected or not – they know from direct experience,” said Sue Longley, IUF General Secretary.
Amongst the many claims IUF makes, a major one is that the policy may not apply generally to all Coca-Cola employees.
“[W]here workers are concerned, the company’s human rights policy applies to a strictly limited number of people within the system whose rights might be negatively impacted by any actions the company might take, or by actions it might fail to take.”