On February 25, 2010 a lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against The Coca-Cola Co. and Coke processing and bottling plants in Guatemala. This case involves charges of murder, rape and torture. The plaintiffs include union leaders and family members. This case has been brought in New York State because plaintiffs and other victims of human rights abuses lack access to an independent and functioning legal system within Guatemala, a country with a corrupt judiciary which has been undermined by the intimidation and murder of witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers and judges.

(Read the complaint here.)

“Coca-Cola’s crimes against union leaders continues. This Guatemala case shows, tragically, that Coca-Cola’s Workplace Rights Policy, and its other false claims to the public about respecting the rights of workers to join unions, are nothing more than a public relations campaign designed to deceive the public,” said Terry Collingsworth, lead counsel in the case.

He continued, “This case also presents evidence of Coca-Cola’s direct involvement in trying to suppress the facts. Coca-Cola used the leverage of security for the family of Plaintiff Jose Palacios to try to get him to waive his employment rights and resign from his union. With this case, we finally have the evidence to get to a jury and let them decide if Coca-Cola is produced with the blood of union leaders and their family members. This case will expose the fraud of Coca-Cola’s public relations campaign once and for all.”

This is not something new to Guatemala. “For nine years the 450 workers at the Coca-Cola bottling plants in Guatemala City fought a battle with their employers for their jobs, their trade union and their lives. Three times they occupied the plant – on the last occasion for thirteen months. Three General Secretaries of their union were murdered and five other workers killed. Four more were kidnapped and have disappeared” according to Mike Gatehouse and Miguel Angel Reyes of the Latin America Bureau (UK) in “Soft Drink, Hard Labour.” (1987)

“This is another example of the kind of atrocities in which Coca-Cola has been involved to prevent and destroy labor unions in Latin America,” said Ray Rogers, Director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. “Labor unions are critical to improve wages and working conditions for all workers and for democracies to flourish. But in places like Guatemala and Colombia, a strong union can mean the difference between life and death.”

The lawsuit coincides with the release of “The Coca Cola Case”, a film documenting similar human rights abuses against union leaders at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. The film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and Argus Films.

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Business Week (Bloomberg), “Coca-Cola Sued in U.S. by Guatemalans Over Anti-Union Violence,” By Patricia Hurtado, February 27, 2010
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 “Coca-Cola Co. was sued by Guatemalan workers who say they endured a ‘campaign of violence’ by people working on behalf of bottling and processing plants Coke owns or owned there after they engaged in union activities. Jose Armando Palacios of Guatemala and eight other plaintiffs filed the complaint Feb. 25 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging negligence, deceptive practices and other claims against Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest soda maker.”

Free Speech Radio News,”Labor unions in Guatemala charge Coca-Cola with murder, torture,” By Ari Paul, February 26, 2010
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A lawsuit that involves labor unions, a multinational corporation and murder is spanning borders. Today, lawyers for labor activists subjected to torture and killings at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Guatemala filed a lawsuit against the company in a New York City court. The attorneys are highlighting a spike in violence against trade unionists in the Central American country. FSRN’s Ari Paul reports. Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Director Ray Rogers is interviewed.