Killer Coke Essay
KILLER COKE: THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST COCA-COLA Case Summary The “Killer Coke” case revolves around to brutal murders of union leaders in a bottling plant in Colombia and the corporate responsibility of the Coca-Cola Company. The Killer Coke movement alleges that the Coca-Cola Company directed or was implicitly involved in the killings to ensure that unions were broken in the Colombian plants. The obvious legal ramifications are that contract killings took place at the plant.
The more subtle ethical issue is even if Coca-Cola didn’t explicitly order the killings, did they knowingly ignore the grave working conditions that faced the people working in their plant. Ray Roger’s is leads a movement against Coca-Cola, calling for a ban of all Coke products after the murders. Finally there is discussion about whether Coca-Cola did enough to investigate the working conditions, citing that the audit they commissioned was to be done by a company with a history of false favorable reports that covered up “gross human rights violations. Utilizing the concepts we have covered in class, the core issues can be broken down: •Three business ethics issues – individual, organizational and societal. •Ethical Frameworks – Utilitarianism, individual rights and justice & fairness and ethics of care. Problem Analysis Contract Killings As mentioned in the summary, the heart of the Killer Coke case is the executions of two prominent union leaders in the Bebidas factory in Colombia. The legal ramifications are directly tied to the paramilitaries who murdered the two men as well as Ariosto Milan Mosquera, who was hired to manage the plant.
He is alleged to have threatened to destroy the union and allowed the paramilitaries to access the plant. The shade of gray here is whether Mosquera acted on his own or whether, Bebidas (and perhaps even Coca-Cola) where aware of his plans and whether all of them should be held liable for the murders. Legally Coca-Cola USA and Coca-Cola Colombia were never found guilty of any wrong doing as they were determined to not be “agents that conspired or acted jointly with paramilitary through Bebidas. ” Therefore, only Mosquera and Bebidas were found to have colluded with the paramilitary forces to break the union.
Ethical Response The ethical issues are linked not only to Bebidas and the individuals, but also to Coca-Cola themselves. Was Coca-Cola’s response to the murders strong enough? Once the case was dismissed, should Coke have reevaluated their bottling plant facilities and policies? Did they have an ethical obligation to do more for the remaining employees and for the victim’s families? All of these questions are certainly up for debate. Coca-Cola made mention of their strict adherence to strong ethical policies and legal restrictions of the countries in which they operate.
Coca-Cola then had an external audit company perform an audit of the plant. The findings showed that no issues with the facility or any of their practices. However, the University of Michigan took issue with the choice of the auditing company, noting that the had a history of “giving favorable reports to factories that were later discovered to have been involved in gross human rights violations. The question arises whether this was an intentional plan by Coke and should they have conducted a follow up audit with another firm.
Also, ethically, should Coke have terminated their agreement with the bottling plant as a show that this type of action against employees would not be tolerated? Environment As discussed in the case, the time period in which these killings certainly cannot go unnoticed. Colombia was in a period called “la Violencia” which translates to “the Violence. ” Paramilitary forces were prevalent throughout the country and the FARC group took a violent hold on the country, financing their operations through drug trade and other illegal measures.
According to the case, over 35,000 civilians were killed during this period. Two of these civilians killed where the victims of this case. There is an argument to be made in defense of Coca-Cola that the political environment in Colombia was more responsible for the murder of their employees rather than the company’s organizational desire for less union labor. Data Collection and Interpretation Much of the irrelevant data focused on other companies, such as Nike, and their sweatshops.
While relevant in the sense that other companies don’t always monitor and sometimes cover up working conditions in other countries, the underlying case revolves around the brutality of the paramilitary forces in Colombia and whether Coke was complicit in the murders. The remaining materials that could have been omitted were the history of Colombia and the discussion of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. While providing a brief view in to the history of violence in Colombia, it had no direct barring in this case. There also was relevant data that had little bearing on the case.
For example, while the effect of the university bans on the Coca-Cola product could be construed as social revolt against the company’s products for its international practices, the effect on the legal outcome was non-existent and Coke continues to be a very profitable company with bottling plants largely unchanged in Colombia. Critical Ethical and Legal Issues Individual As mentioned, there are certainly individuals with culpability in this case. The first being Mosquera who was the plant manager that allegedly announced he would do everything possible to disband the SINALTRAINAL Union.
The Kirby’s, who were the owners of the plant which would benefit finically from a weaker or completely disbanded labor union, deserve legal and ethical questioning. If they allowed the intimidation of their employees for financial gains, that would not only be illegal but an atrocity to ethics most cultures and countries. However, it must be noted that while murder is rarely justifiable, outside research shows that the counter allegations from the Kirby’s were that the two victims in this case were members of the guerilla organization and may have been killed for reasons other than union ties.
Organizational There are multiple organizations at work in this case who hold their share of the allegations and blame for these murders. The parent company, Coca-Cola, while found to be legally free of blame, certainly had cause on an ethical basis to do more. Coke’s position has always been one to deny culpability and fight off the lawsuits pending. While the costs may have been greater, they should have done more to investigate the killings and to provide safety and security to the employees.
Coke stood behind their commitment to high ethical standards, but it appeared that they didn’t hold their subsidiaries to the same level. Again, while not implicitly involved, Coca-Cola was certainly aware of working conditions in their bottling plants and were made very aware of these murders through the KillerCoke. org movement and yet they chose to take a hands off approach rather than helping to correct the issues found at their bottling plants in Colombia. There is also the brand image aspect of this case that affected Coke.
As one of the most valuable brands in the world, negative press and bans of their products are damaging and cost revenue. Coke was able to still operate with no true impediments, but as with people, a reputation follows you and Coke certainly has to be wary of getting a reputation for not caring about people and society. Societal There are two main societies affected by these murders; Colombian and American. The impact on the Colombian society was minor compared to some of the other atrocities happening at the time, however it brought to light working conditions allowed by American corporations in Colombia.
The description of the number of people who disbanded from the union and fled to other provinces is telling about how much they truly believed their lives were in danger. The societal impact of people fearing that their lives are in danger is immense and not just related to only these specific killings, but the environment of the country as well. The impact on the American culture was twofold. First, Coke, which is one of the most valuable and recognized brands globally, suffered PR damage and brought their management team in to question.
This had an affect not only on the employees of coke, but also the shareholders. Secondly, in protest of the atrocities in Colombia, many schools and organizations banned Coca-Cola products from their campuses. These bans didn’t have any real effect on Coke’s bottom line and in fact more likely hurt the American worker rather than benefited the Colombian employee because Coke products are bottled as close to their distribution lines as possible, which in effect meant that the ban lowered the domestic amount of Coke sold rather than the International amount.
Fewer sales means less bottling which would cut the number of people needed in the United States to work at the plants. Ethical Frameworks Utilitarianism This case demonstrates how Coca-Cola and its subsidiaries failed to operate in a utilitarian manner because their response to the murder of their employees was to simply remove blame from themselves rather than solving the issue. While this would benefit them as a stakeholder, clearly the employees as well as their families who were in fear for their lives were not benefited.
Conversely you can make the argument that Ray Rogers acted in a completely utilitarian way with his continued push through the KillerCoke. org website and the challenging of Coke management of working conditions and policies in Colombia. Rogers, who was a long time activist, did not know the victims but took it upon himself to voice their plights in the United States and bring attention to something that would generally miss the general public’s ears. He believed that doing what’s right is in the best interest of society. Virtue Ethics The case for Rogers as a proponent of virtue ethics is an easy one to present.
As mentioned, Rogers, who has a history of exerting himself as a moral activist speaking out against injustices facing the working class, certainly fits as a good person doing good deeds. While the argument could be made that it was his profession to do so and thus may not have the same allure that someone outside of the Strategy and PR profession, the general thought among society would be that he is attempting to right wrongs with his considerable power by trying to hold Coca-Cola to an ethical standard that stretches through their entire network, even to those employees they on’t legally have control over. Ethics of Care We can also make the assumption that Coke’s “hands-off” approach to the whole situation violates the ethics of care theory. In turn, they let the violence of the times dictate their response by condemning the action against the people, but doing nothing to better society or take care of the victims in any way. They failed to nurture the relationship with their employees and faced some brand damage back in the United States.
Along the same lines, the actual bottling plant owners as well as plant managers failed to utilize ethics of care. Relevant Law and Company Policy The true law evoked in the case revolves around the suit brought against Coca-Cola and Bebidas by the union and representatives of the victims under the Alien tort Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act. However as mentioned, the case was dismissed against Coke, however Bebidas and Panamerican Beverages could be held liable. Also, as murder is illegal, there were a few parties who were found responsible.
The manager of the plant and the Bebidas plant itself both were implicit in the deaths. The case doesn’t get in to any punishment for these players because they are small in comparison to the corporate giant of Coca-Cola. Certainly Coke will always speak out against violent threats and murder as they are all illegal, therefore they don’t need to have a specific policy denouncing such behavior. Had they been found guilty however, the financial damages as well as the damage to their reputation would have been significant.
Unfortunately, aside from the audit performed to ensure their plants overall atmosphere, Coke made no corporate changes and did not alter their policy in Colombia. The other statute that could have been utilized was the National Labor Relations Act, specifically the clause that deems it unfair for an employer to interfere “with the efforts of employees to form, join or assist labor organizations” which the murder of union members certainly would violate. They also can make no threats to employees trying to form a union, which the paramilitary forces did for them.
Relate to Textbook Concepts I think the biggest textbook concept is the Conflict of Interest piece. In the case they discuss how Coke hired an “independent” auditing firm to evaluate the plant in Colombia. As mentioned, there were questions as to the integrity of the firm they chose as well as their ties to Coke which will elicit a positive result even if one did not exist. These conflicts lead some schools to ban the Coke products from campus. Another conflict of interest which wasn’t mentioned in the case was regarding the judge who dismissed the charges against Coke.
KillerCoke. org alleged that the Judge in the trial was “very closely connected to the University of Miami Athletics which is sponsored by Coca-Cola. Personally I find this to be a stretch and the judge himself was cleared of any wrong doing. I think the case also pointed out the lack of ethics, not only in the Bebidas plant, but also in Colombia at the time. When the governing force bankrolls a significant portion of their money from drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and murder, it is obvious that ethics have little role in that society.
One other concept mentioned is the employee’s right to work in a “safe” environment and the Occupational Safety and Health Board would deem this an unfit environment had it been located in the US. Generating Solutions and Conclusions Sadly, there are no solutions that bring back the victims of this case. Below are some actions that could have been or were taken that hide, delay the solution to or solve some of the problems. IllegalLegal but UnethicalLegal and Ethical
Hire someone to kill Rogers (only farfetched in USA, but in Colombia…)Continue with business as usual at the plantsDenounce the killings publically and force subsidiary to dismiss all employees associated with the killings Pay off third party audit firms to provide good resultsHave an audit firm that has a reputation for favorable reviewsHire independent audit firms to take separate actions at random times to ensure accuracy Compensate victims’ families and seek confidentiality agreements to keep news of the violence quietMove South American bottling plant out of
Colombia to another low income countryIncrease security at all plants that have a history of violence Ban employees from forming a unionContinue to employ the workers who were forcefully disbanded as a unionAllow the employees to reform the union for better bargaining power and safer work conditions Place a figure head HR representative in Colombia but fail to give them proper authority to make changesImplement Ombudsman program to address legal and ethical concerns from employees
Reason to Conclusion/Select Best Solution I think there are a number of aspects that could and probably should have been handled differently in this case. First, once Coke heard of the murders of the union leaders, they should have sent people down to investigate rather than preparing their denial. Second, once it was brought to light that the audit firm the chose was alleged to have given out fictitious reports, they should have hired a second independent firm to conduct a similar analysis.
This would remove any thoughts of collusion and show the public that they were truly concerned with the welfare of the employees. Finally, they should have threatened to cancel their bottling agreement with the company unless security measures were put in place and the union was allowed to reform. This would protect their employees and give them the best working environment.