Indian group pulls out of Coca-Cola forum

Without adequate representation, the scheduled event could become a forum to whitewash Coca-Cola’s crimes.

The India Resource Center has decided not to participate in the public forum being organized by the Minnesota Student Association about the allegations surrounding the Coca-Cola Co.’s practices in India and Colombia.

Our refusal to participate in the forum stems from the fact that the representatives of the Colombian union, Sinaltrainal, were never informed, let alone invited, to the forum.

The forum on Coca-Cola was being organized as the result of a resolution passed by the MSA in April seeking to educate the University community about the allegations surrounding the company’s practices in Colombia and India.

The University has an exclusive contract with the Coca-Cola Co., and student groups are campaigning to end the contract because of the human rights and environmental violations by the company.

The India Resource Center had accepted the invitation to present on the issues in India, and we were looking forward to the

public forum where the Coca-Cola Co. officials would also be present.

We were shocked, however, to learn on Sunday that the primary union in Colombia, Sinaltrainal, which has made the allegations against Coca-Cola, had not been informed of nor invited to the forum.

Sinaltrainal is best qualified to represent the issues surrounding Coca-Cola’s crimes in Colombia, and they are more than willing to represent the issues.

One of the union’s most prolific speakers, Mr. Gerardo Cajamarca, is in exile in the United States because of the numerous death threats he has received in Colombia.

Sinaltrainal’s exclusion from the forum is particularly appalling given that Mr.

Cajamarca makes his home in Minneapolis.

The MSA, as well as the University administration, have had ample time to contact key speakers to present on the Colombia issues. As of Tuesday morning, however, not a single speaker had been finalized on Colombia.

By not informing and inviting Sinaltrainal to present on the Colombia issues at the forum, we strongly believe that the forum grants an unnecessary advantage to the Coca-Cola Co.

This is simply unacceptable to us.

Sinaltrainal’s exclusion at the forum points to a flawed process, and relying on such a process cannot lead to a genuine examination of the very serious issues in Colombia and India.

We have asked the MSA to postpone the forum in order to accommodate Sinaltrainal representatives.

The forum, in its current format, enjoys no legitimacy whatsoever. Without adequate representation, it could become a forum to whitewash Coca-Cola’s crimes.

Both the India Resource Center and Sinaltrainal welcome an opportunity to publicly debate the issues with the Coca-Cola Co. But we also expect a level playing field.

We are committed to working with students at the University to highlight Coca-Cola’s criminal activities in Colombia and India.

Given the facts, we are confident that people will not drink Coca-Cola.

The forum, unfortunately, will not be able to provide the facts, only Coca-Cola’s spin.

Amit Srivastava is the coordinator of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization that works with communities in India to challenge Coca-Cola’s abuses internationally. Please send comments to [email protected]