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Courtesy of NFB

The Coca-Cola Case

NFB film alleges links between the world's biggest soft-drink company and the violent suppression of trade unionists

By Kevin Spurgaitis

The Coca-Cola Case
Directed by Carmen Garcia and Germán Gutiérrez

"Have a Coke and a smile!” That’s all the world’s biggest soft-drink manufacturer wants of consumers. But a new NFB film suggests that underneath Coca-Cola’s syrupy slogan lurks something completely unsavoury: alleged links to the violent suppression of trade unionists in Guatemala and Colombia. In The Coca-Cola Case, filmmakers Germán Gutiérrez and Carmen Garcia explore this and other allegations launched against the Atlanta-based soft-drink corporation in recent years.

From Bogotá to New York, Guatemala City to Washington, the directors follow American labour lawyers Daniel Kovalik and Terry Collingsworth, as well as Ray Rogers, an American political activist who founded the Stop Killer Coke campaign. In a three-year saga, the trio’s attempts to hold the company legally accountable persist even as Coke repeatedly denies the allegations and two U.S. courts dismiss the cases.

According to the filmmakers, hundreds of workers and their relatives in Central and South America have been intimidated or illegally detained by paramilitaries linked to multinationals including Coca-Cola. In Colombia alone, an estimated 470 unionists have been assassinated since 2002. The country remains the trade union murder capital of the world. At the start of the documentary, Martin Gil says, “As soon as the union was formed, the trouble all started.” Gil’s brother Isidro was killed at point-blank range while working at the Coca-Cola bottling plant. He was part of a union bargaining unit, and  his murder went unpunished.

At times, the documentary comes across as left-wing pamphleteering. The filmmakers never speak to Coke directly, instead showing clips from an annual shareholders’ meeting (which show former CEO Neville Isdell distancing himself and fellow executives from their partners in other countries). Even so, you can’t fault the directors for providing a platform for activists fighting for basic human rights. For many, that’s the real legal battle.

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