Coke kills.

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Tuesday, August 20, 2002 at 4:12PM :

Oh, if only they knew how little US workers really get, too, in compensation from big corporations. It's worse for workers overseas, but that doesn't mean that it's not bad here in the States.
Published on Friday, August 16, 2002
Students Protest Coke Health Policy
Harvard AIDS Coalition partners with ACT UP in Square rally

Harvard Crimson Staff Writer

Nearly 50 Harvard College and Summer School students rallied in Harvard Square Saturday, calling on Coca-Cola to provide comprehensive health care—including HIV and AIDS treatments—to the corporation's African employees.

Student protesters marched across Harvard Yard to the Square's Pit area, carrying a 25-foot inflatable Coke bottle labeled "Stop Medical Apartheid" and chanting "Coke's greed kills! AIDS drugs for Africa!"

"In the United States, we wouldn't put up with a company that exploited its workforce without providing health care coverage. Why do we accept such scenarios abroad?" said Jia Han '05, a member of the Harvard AIDS Coalition (HAC) who spoke at the rally.

"We need to hold companies accountable to their workforces, and that includes not only dispensing condoms to employees but taking responsibility for those who are infected," Han said.

HAC joined up with several international AIDS activist groups to demand that Coke provide all workers with a pledge of non-discrimination, AIDS awareness and prevention programs, confidential voluntary counseling and testing and treatment, care and support for affected and infected employees and their dependents.

The international Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), the Harvard-founded international parent organization of the Harvard AIDS Coalition, has instructed its campus chapters to call for a divestment from Coke, and HAC intends to call on Harvard to divest, said Florence T. Twu '05, a rally organizer.

At Saturday's demonstration, organizers distributed literature to Summer School students on how to organize divestment campaign at their own high schools and colleges.

Since the spring, the AIDS activist group ACT UP has called for Coke, which is the largest employer in Africa, to extend coverage of HIV and AIDS treatments to its African employees. In April, ACT UP's New York branch held a demonstration outside a Coke shareholders meeting, and since then other activist groups, including SGAC, have teamed up with ACT UP to pressure Coke.

The Saturday demonstration was the first time that HAC had co-sponsored an event with ACT UP. While HAC and SGAC have previously used more traditional activist strategies, such as conventional rallies and letter-writing campaigns to members of Congress, ACT UP is known for its radical and unconventional direct action protest methods and its signature slogan, "Silence = Death."

Their partnership with ACT UP on the Coke issue may signal a more radical future for HAC and SGAC. One HAC member said a shift to a more radical grass roots campaign would be good for the organization.

Activists are targeting Coke because of its size - as Africa's largest private sector employer, the corporation employs 100,000 workers who bottle and distribute Coke products under exclusive licensing agreements in Africa - and because it is a major global corporation with an internationally recognized image.

Recently, the gold company Anglo Gold and the diamond company DeBeers have extended health care for their employees in Africa to include coverage of HIV and AIDS treatments.

In June 2001, the Coca-Cola Foundation and the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS announced an agreement to provide HIV and AIDS resources to people directly employed by Coca-Cola, but the agreement did not include the same resources for the many Africans who work in factories that bottle Coca-Cola products.

Africa is soon to be Coke's most profitable geographic sector, with the continent making the corporation $620 million last year, for a 41 percent profit margin, Twu said, citing Coke corporate reports. The estimated cost of providing the extended health care, according to Coke's analysis, would be less than 1 percent of its African earnings, she said.

"Coke's own economic analysis confirms that the company can easily afford the cost of providing AIDS treatment to its laborers," Han said.

An official statement released by Coca-Cola defended the company's practices, arguing that Coca-Cola itself does provide many of the services AIDS activists are calling for and that the company is not directly responsible for the policies of its subsidiaries.

"The Coca-Cola Company provides healthcare coverage to our employees in Africa, which includes free, confidential AIDS testing; access to antiretroviral drugs; and a local AIDS committee that offers basic training in HIV/AIDS awareness," said the statement. "Our bottling partners, who are independent companies, are at various stages of developing their AIDS strategies. They are responsible for providing healthcare for their employees and some of their healthcare offerings may differ from ours."

Some HAC members compared Coke's African health care policy to recent revelations of big business corruption.

"While the world talks about corporate scandals taking place in the accounting books, it needs to take a look at the scandals taking place on the scales of life and death," said Yi-An Huang '05, a member of HAC.

Saturday's rally included speeches by John Bell, an activist from ACT UP's Philadelphia branch; Brook Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University; Sharonann Lynch, of the Health Global Access Project; and Steven L. Porter, a Princeton University student studying at the Harvard Summer School this summer.

Porter worked in South Africa on the Treatment Action Campaign, a movement to get treatment for mothers and pregnant women with HIV.

Coke came under fire from student activists earlier this year when Harvard Students Against Sweatshops put up posters on campus denouncing the corporation's alleged involvement in the murder of Colombian trade unionists, for which the company is currently being sued.

-- Lilly
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