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  • Glossary Glossary; International Coca-Cola Protest October 17

October 18, 2002

"AIDS is the crisis of our generation, and we will be defined by our response to it. Years from now, we will have to answer to our own children: did we stand by as millions died, or did we take action? We have a chance to make a real difference in shaping the outcome of this pandemic. We hope you will join us in this endeavor." From Student Global AIDS Campaign, cover letter transmitting The Coca-Cola Campaign: A Manual for Student Organizers.

Since a July 2002 announcement in Barcelona during the international AIDS conference there, activists in Africa, the U.S., and Europe have called for a global day of protest against Coca-Cola on October 17, asking for better health coverage for African workers and their families. Behind this protest are several developments.

Coca-Cola already provided health coverage including antiretrovirals to its corporate employees in Africa -- about 1200 workers, mostly white collar. But that is only about 2% of the 60,000 workers producing and distributing Coca-Cola products in Africa. Most of the work is outsourced to bottlers and other independent contractors, who typically compete against each other with low prices and margins -- creating a race to the bottom in worker health care, unless the larger corporation sets standards for contractors or otherwise intervenes. African and other activists saw that if multinational corporations could wash their hands of responsibility simply by outsourcing their work, access to treatment in developing countries would be gravely set back. While treatment can reduce employee turnover and associated costs, sometimes it is cheaper to abandon and replace low-wage, low-skill workers who get sick, than to provide medical care.

On September 26 the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation announced a major treatment initiative in which the Foundation and three partners (GlaxoSmithKline, PharmAccess International, and Population Services International) will work with Coca-Cola's 40 bottlers in Africa to help them expand their health coverage to include HIV infection and antiretroviral drug treatment. This program is estimated to cost the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation $4 million to $5 million per year. According to Coca-Cola Africa, a total of 44% of bottler employees "had agreed to this program or were on exiting programs that covered prevention and awareness and treatment," as of October 14.

While acknowledging that this program is potentially an important step forward, activists said there were several deficiencies, including that:

  • This program covers workers and their spouses -- but not their children or other dependents;

  • The cost sharing required of the bottlers, and co-payments required from the workers, are likely to prevent many from participating; and

  • There is no proof of commitment to rapid rollout of the treatment program, and no plan to expand it beyond Africa.

For More Information

The best Web site on this campaign is, by Health GAP. It includes background, contacts, and activist toolkits including a 30-page manual on how to organize, from the Student Global AIDS Campaign -- a handbook we hope is adapted to other campaigns to change the appalling lack of political will on the global HIV catastrophe.

The Web site of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation is:

ISSN # 1052-4207

Copyright 2002 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.

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This article was provided by AIDS Treatment News. It is a part of the publication AIDS Treatment News.