Colombian union workers began a hunger strike in front of the Coke bottling plants protesting against Coca-Cola FEMSA’s plans to dismiss 91 more workers from the bottling plants in Colombia.

22 March 2004

Mr Douglas Daft
Chairman and Chief Executive Office
The Coca-Cola Company
1 Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta GA, 30313
United States of America

Dear Mr Daft,

Re: Hunger Strike At Coca-Cola Bottling Plants In Colombia

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is alarmed by the news that union workers in Colombia began a hunger strike in front of the Coke bottling plants. The ACTU understands that they’ve taken this action to protest Coca-Cola FEMSA’s plans to dismiss 91 more workers from the bottling plants in Colombia. Apparently, seventy percent of those workers are union leaders.

On September 9, 2003, Coca-Cola FEMSA closed the production lines at eleven of their sixteen bottling plants in Colombia. Since then, the ACTU understands that more than 500 workers have been pressured into “voluntarily resigning” from their contracts in exchange for a lump sum payment.

These massive dismissals are part of an ongoing, brutal anti-union campaign by the Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia. Now, more than 88 percent of the Coke workers in Colombia are temporary employees or contractors – many of whom earn just the minimum wage of $120 per month and don’t have any benefits.

The Coca-Cola Company has a self-imposed obligation to improve the circumstances of local communities. I refer you to your Community Beliefs statement on the Coca-Cola website:

“Together with our local bottling partners, we strengthen communities by giving with our hands and our hearts, as partners in the promise of a better life.”

Many workers in Colombian Cola-Cola bottling plants are not living better lives. In fact they are suffering. It is time for The Coca-Cola Company to live up to your promise.

The ACTU strongly urges you to pressure Coca-Cola FEMSA to relocate the workers to other positions within those plants or to transfer them to other plants. The ACTU understands that this is what the company is required to do, according to Articles 18 and 91 of the current collective bargaining agreements. In January, a Colombian judge ordered the company to do this for the workers at the plants in Barrancabermeja and Cúcuta.

The ACTU and Global Unions will continue to campaign against the human rights abuses of trade unionists in Colombia. It is our understanding that seven leaders of SINALTRAINAL have been murdered – including Isidro Segundo Gil, who was shot to death by paramilitaries inside the plant in Carepa. Sixty-seven union leaders have been threatened with death, as have family members of trade union leaders.

Please respond as to how you intend to address these matters.

Yours sincerely,

Sharan Burrow

Steven Heyer, President and COO, The Coca-Cola Company; Lori Billingsley, Issues Director, Media Relations, The Coca-Cola Company; Guy Ryder, ICFTU.