Coke has been operating in Colombia for more than 70 years, but finding someone at the company willing to speak about the allegations made by SINALTRAINAL proved difficult. For one thing, the bottling plant in Bucaramanga is not owned by Coca-Cola in Atlanta, but by a company based in Mexico, Coca-Cola FEMSA. When we contacted Coca-Cola Femsa, we were told we would not be allowed inside the plant or granted an interview because such an action might compromise the company’s position in the lawsuit in Miami.
Early one morning we showed up at the factory gates and spoke with some of the employees arriving for work. “The truth is, the union is good,” one man told us. “But let’s just say, if I get involved, I’ll find myself somewhere else. I’ll get kicked out of the plant.”
Others were reluctant to speak with us. “They’re scared,” said one union member.
FEMSA, the Mexico-based owner of the plant, bottles 40 percent of the Coke consumed in Latin America. In 2004, the company had $4 billion in net sales. Coca-Cola owns nearly 40 percent of FEMSA, but under the bottling agreement, Coca-Cola is not legally responsible for FEMSA’s labor practices.
The one Coke representative who would talk with us was Pablo Largacha, the head of public relations for the company in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. He would not comment on any of the union’s allegations in the lawsuit, but he said that Coca-Cola took measures to protect their employees from the ubiquitous political violence in the country. Largacha also insisted that Coca-Cola is “one of the most admired companies in Colombia [and] one of the most sought after to work for.”