Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Let me Share the Happiness

I honestly could not have anticipated that my decision to no longer buy, wherever possible, Coca Cola TM, or any Coca Cola TM branded products, would have such an impact on my life. That it has become a topic of conversation with almost everyone I know, because it has come up in the context of a situation, gives you an indication of just how all powerful this company are, just how much they have seeped into our global consciousness. So, to save further time and conversations around the subject and mainly because my reasons are, at best, long winded to explain, I thought it a good idea to explain this in the form of a post. To present you with the same information which caused me to stop drinking it, that caused me to stop wanting to give my money to this corporation.

It started with a comedian, Mark Thomas is his name. Have you heard of him? If not, you should look him up. The specific show I’m referring to here is also available free to download, so you have no excuse! He’s a very forthright comedian with very clear political views, a very much a rage against the machine sort of character, and regardless of whether or not I agree with all of his opinions, I respect him utterly for living his life in accordance with his strongly held beliefs and for fighting, in his own way, for what he believes to be right. Although, admittedly, many of his opinions I am in agreement with and this is most definitely one of them. 

We all know Coca Cola, don’t we? With their red laughing Santa guiding us into Christmas every year, the universally recognised symbol of the Coca Cola bottle, their affiliations with all the major fast food outlets and the availability of it, literally, everywhere. And where you don’t find Coke you’ll find Pepsi. We all know that Coke is bad for us health-wise, don’t we? We know that it contains 6 spoonfuls of sugar per can and will destroy a tooth if someone were to leave a tooth in glass of the stuff overnight (why anyone would chose to do this is something of a mystery, but anyway…) Personally, I’ve never given a flying frig about any of these issues. I eat and drink sugar and fat as and when I see fit, and I get more than a little fed up at being lectured over what I chose to put into my body, so I’m not going to lecture you on the health implications of the stuff. I love drinks like that. I love the Red Bulls and the Monsters and the Rock Stars and the Mountain Dews of the world. If they allowed high fructose corn syrup into drinks in the UK, I would most likely be about 4 stone heavier. Quite simply, it tastes like happy. And there are few things more joyous when you’re thirsty than a great big glass of Cherry Coke…

Well, there were few things more joyous to me, but something changed all of that.

Basically, when you look up Coca Cola, or more specifically, criticism of Coca Cola on the web, and I hope you will, you will be bombarded by information because this company has a very rocky history when it comes to the environment, ethical behaviour, and human rights. You will find a lot of information about their use of pesticides, their draining of water sources from small communities in India, their support of the Nazis during WWII, their support of the racial segregation in Africa during the Apartheid,  I could go on and on and on, seriously, this is no exaggeration. But I found out about all of these issues after Mark Thomas brought my attention to the Bottling Plant Murders in Columbia and Guatemala. 

Coca Cola bottles the majority of its soft drink in Central America. These bottling plants are owned by Columbia Panamerican Beverages. The long and short of the matter is that the Unions that the workers in these factories belong to have been campaigning for better working conditions, better working hours, you know, the usual things that Unions campaign for. The response to this has been that Union leaders and their families have been raped, tortured and murdered. I’ll say it again, raped, tortured and murdered. In order to keep the costs of bottling lots of lovely Coca Cola low and profits high, people, people who work as part of that company no less, have been raped, tortured and murdered. When I heard this, it was like a cold, hard, punch in the stomach. My initial thought was that, this could not be real. Or at least, if it was real, I needed to go out and tell the world about it, it must have just happened… I was wrong on both counts. These issues have been on-going for about ten years now, I kid you not, and the facts are there for anyone wishing to find them. At this point I’ll quote directly

‘To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including 9 murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.
Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval.’*

Of course, Coca Cola have distanced themselves as much as possible from these allegations, practically and legally, because, they don’t directly own the bottling plants, do they? They can hardly be held to account if mercenaries somehow gain access to these factories and happen to kill Union officials, the direct results of which being somewhat beneficial to Coca Cola in terms of worker unrest, or lack thereof. Let’s be fair, if the consequences of campaigning for better workers’ rights were torture or death, you would probably quieten down too…

Mark Thomas, being the person that he is, was absolutely incensed by this, and has been over and met the people involved in this fight. He has leant his support and does his part by bringing his audience’s attention to this, because, at large, the world doesn’t seem to give a Fuck…

I don’t know whether it’s ignorance or not. Does knowing this change anything for you? It changed everything for me. I felt sick and guilty, horrendously guilty, that for years, gleefully, willingly and happily I have been handing my money over to this company. I’m not so na├»ve as to believe that any large, global, super powerful corporation is without sin, I really am not. But such an obvious, out in open, not speculative but factual sin? I was stunned, literally stunned. So I made a choice.

The supporters of the boycott of Coca Cola, the supporters of the Unions and workers, have a chant

‘For the Dead
For the Dead
Not a minute’s silence
But a lifetime of struggle.’

When Mark Thomas asked what WE could do, over here, to help, the answer was really simple.

If you want to help, please, don’t buy Coca Cola.

We all support what is happening over there through buying Coca Cola. The more we buy it, the more reasons they have to keep going, to keep doing this. Who is going to stop them? Probably no-one. Think of the legal teams they will have, think of the power and influence they have, not just politically (side note - every president is either a Coca Cola or a Pepsico President, the current one, Obama, is Pepsi President) but with the actual people behind the scenes whose names you’ll never hear, the people who think of the world as just one big game of Risk, or Monopoly. Once you are at that level, all human life and struggles become completely meaningless, we are just numbers at the end of the day.

My favourite novel, Complicity by Iain Banks (not an easy read but an important one I feel) considers the issue of, well, complicity, our complicity in the horrors of the world around us. At some point, somewhere along the line, we are part of every evil thing that corporations and politicians do. To stand out against everything that is wrong in this world is to make a choice to live outside of society, to be alone, separatist, it is the only way to ensure that you are not part of the machine. But, I want to be a part of society, my family and friends exist within it and therefore so will I. Plus, let’s not be noble about this, I have selfish gains obtained through existing as part of this society, I benefit from it as well. But where and when I can, I will try to make choices that help me to sleep a little easier at night. And this is one of them. You at least need to be aware that you are part of bigger, eviler whole, and understand that every choice you make has an impact on the world around you. As I said, the choice to stand outside society is not a very appealing one, but it’s still an option, and you make the choice not to. I make the choice now not to drink Coca Cola. The very fact that I enjoyed it so much before and it was therefore not easy to give up makes it feel like a real choice to me as well. It’s easy to give up something that you’re not too fussed about in the first place. Also, I was surprised to find out just how many products are made by Coca Cola… By proxy I now don’t drink Monster, Innocent Smoothies, Fanta, Dr Pepper, Sprite, Lilt… I could go on but the list of Coca Cola branded drinks totals 3,500 beverages! True story, the full list is on Coca Cola’s official website. As you can see, it’s easier finding the few drinks that this world leader does not own!

Here’s the thing, sometimes I actually find it hard to avoid it, or I wonder what the point of it is, as everybody drinks it anyway and nobody seems to give a frig, and I myself have poured more money into this machine already than some people ever will in a lifetime of consuming it. And then I remember…

Raped, tortured, murdered.

And I feel pathetic for even finding it difficult for a second. Because really, in the grand scheme of things, what is it to ask people to avoid what amounts to, when all is said and done, a fucking tin of sugary water?


Please see the below links for references and further reading.








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