'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Jim Lobe on Coke 

I've always liked Jim Lobe's stuff but I don't know the first thing about him. I see his byline I read the article, that sort of thing ... Anyway here's the beginning of a Jim Lobe article I saw on Guerilla News Network about Coca-Cola's use by proxy of child labor in the sugar cane fields of El Salvador:

Coca-Cola is indirectly benefiting from the use of child labor in sugarcane fields in El Salvador, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is calling on the company to take more responsibility to ensure that such abuses are halted.

Between 5,000 and 30,000 Salvadoran children, some as young as 8 years old, are working in El Salvador's sugarcane plantations where injuries, particularly severe cuts and gashes, are common, according to the 139-page report, 'Turning a Blind Eye: Hazardous Labor in El Salvador's Sugarcane Cultivation.'

Since the 1950s, sugar production has grown in importance in El Salvador since the 1950s, and by 1971 it exceeded the production of basic grains. By the 1990s, sugar, which was produced mainly by state-owned plantations, had become El Salvador's second-largest export crop after coffee. Beginning in 1995, most of the plantations were privatized.

While Coca-Cola does not own or buy cane directly from any of these plantations, its local bottler buys sugar from El Salvador's largest refinery, Central Izalco, and distributes the soft drink throughout Central America. HRW found that Izalco purchased sugarcane from at least four plantations that use child labor in violation of the law.

Coca-Cola denied any connection with child labor in El Salvador. "Our review has revealed that none of the four cooperatives identified by HRW supplied any products directly to the Coca-Cola Company, and that neither the Company nor the Salvadoran bottler have any commercial contracts with these farm cooperatives," Coca-Cola officials said in a statement released in response to the report. The company publicly opposes the use of child labor, and its "Supplier Guiding Principles" program provides that its direct suppliers "will not use child labor as defined by local law."

Michael Bochenek, counsel to HRW's Children's Rights Division, believes the company should take more responsibility. "Coke is saying that it has no responsibility to look beyond their direct suppliers, and we disagree," he said. "If Coca-Cola is serious about avoiding complicity in the use of hazardous child labor, the company should recognize its responsibility to ensure that respect for human rights extend down the supply chain."

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