AIDS Activists Protest Coke's Deadly Neglect
of Workers with AIDS in Developing Countries


July 10, 2002


(BARCELONA) At the International AIDS Conference 2002, AIDS activists held a protest targeting Coca-Cola for refusing to pay for AIDS treatment for their vast workforce in developing countries. The backdrop for the rally was a 25-foot inflatable Coke Bottle with the slogan: "Coke's Neglect=Death for Workers in Africa: AIDS Treatment Now. End Medical Apartheid." And signs "Coke's AIDS shame=Death." Chanting "Coke Lies. Workers Die, AIDS Treatment Now," the protestors marched through the exhibition hall.

The "people's court" finds CEO Douglas Daft, a corporate sponsor of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, guilty of discriminatory medical treatment of workers at Coke's bottlers, canners, and distributors in Africa.

Coca-Cola announced efforts in June 2001 to combing AIDS in Africa. Among the marketing and prevention initiatives was a plan to provide or pay for treatment of employees living with HIV/AIDS. However, the coverage actually offered excludes the 98,500 workers employed by the vast network of Coke affiliated companies, major bottling, canning, and distribution enterprises, many owned in whole or part by Coke.

Instead, "Coke promised comprehensive anti-HIV treatment only to their 1500 'direct employees--a tiny fraction of their integrated system workforce," said Amanda Lugg of ACT UP New York. "They excluded access for thousands of employees facing certain death in Africa. They have offered a sham program instead of a real commitment."

Activists contend corporations have a moral and economic obligation to implement HIV/AIDS workplace policies that include antiretroviral therapy for affected/infected employees and their dependents. "After all, Coca-Cola makes a 41% rate of return on sales in Africa and earns hundreds of millions of dollars in profit each year from the labor of these workers," said Brook Baker of Health GAP.

Coca-Cola, the largest private employer in Africa provide AIDS coverage only to its "direct employees" using the excuse that their exclusive licensing agreements and ownership schemes absolve them of direct responsibility. Activists counter that Coke brags about its diverse, worldwide system workforce and non-discrimination policies and then leaves most of its system employees unprotected.

Activists argue that at a modest cost, estimated at less than $5,000,000 a year, Coca-Cola can prevent needless, preventable deaths among the men and women that bottle, can, and distribute Coke products throughout Africa. "These medicines save lives and are proven to work in resource poor settings. Moreover, the costs are trivial, and would go even lower if Coke purchased generic medicines," said Sharonann Lynch, Health GAP coordinator of the Coke Campaign.

Activists have also targeted Anglo-American who migrant workforce and hostel housing policies have directly intensified the pandemic resulting in infection rates as high as 30% among mine workers. Anglo American, based in London, is one of the largest mining conglomerates in the world and has major holdings in Africa, employing 180,000 workers. Based on the threat of losing 30% of its workforce, Anglo America announced and then reversed a policy of supplying antiretroviral drugs to all of its HIV/AIDS infected workers. In May 2001, Anglo executives announced the impending availability of AIDS treatment in their high quality and workplace clinics and healthcare systems but have since suspended all efforts at rolling out previous announced treatment feasibility studies.

Demonstrators point out that Coca-Cola and Anglo American, as the most notorious corporations to skirt their primary responsibilities to pay for affordable HIV/AIDS treatment for their workers, while both claim leadership in the battle against AIDS under the cover of such groups as the Global Business Coalition.

"Executives at Coke and Anglo have the Blood of Thousands of workers with AIDS on their hands," said Eustacia Smith, ACT UP member. "Coke and Anglo-American executives and shareholders are making a killing off the labor of Africans, while workers with HIV and their families are left behind to die."

At the rally, activists announced a coalition comprised of groups from the U.S., South Africa, Thailand, Morocco, and France to organize a global day of action to protest Coke's HIV/AIDS workplace policies in developing countries. Similar to other coordinated solidarity campaigns, the groups will protest Coca-Cola at location in various countries on the same day. The organizations are Treatment Action Campaign (South Africa), Global AIDS Alliance, European AIDS Treatment Group, ALCS (Association marocaine de Lutte Contre le Sida, Morocco), Health GAP, ACT UP New York, ACT UP Philadelphia, Act Up-Paris, and Thai Network of People Living with HIV (TNP+).


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