USA: Coca-Cola Sued Over Death Squad Claims

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Trade union leaders in the United States have said they are suing the soft-drinks company Coca-Cola for allegedly hiring right-wing death squads to terrorise workers at its Colombian bottling plant.

A spokesman for Coca-Cola in Atlanta said its Colombian bottling plants were run by business partners and denied any wrongdoing by the company.

Lawyers for the United Steel workers union say they will file the lawsuit in Miami on Friday on behalf of the Colombian union Sinaltrainal.

The suit alleges that Coca-Cola and Panamerican Beverages, its principal bottler in Latin America, waged what union leaders describe as a campaign of terror, using paramilitaries to kill, torture and kidnap union leaders in Colombia.

Indirect Responsbility

In a 66-page complaint presented at a news conference in Bogota, Sinaltrainal alleges that Coca-Cola bears indirect responsibility for the killing of Isidro Segundo Gil, a union leader shot dead on 5 December 1996.

The plaintiffs will cite the Alien Tort Claims Act, a centuries-old law which allows foreigners to sue US companies for damages caused abroad.

More than 50 union leaders have been killed in Colombia this year, 128 last year and more than 1,500 in the past 10 years, according to the complaint.

Sinaltrainal represents 2,300 food workers in Colombia including 500 employees at plants where Coca-Cola is bottled.

Allegations Denied

"Coca-Cola denies any connection to any human-rights violation of this type," company spokesman Rafael Fernandez Quiros said from the company's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

"We do not own or operate the plants," added Mr Quiros.

Colombia has been locked in a bloody, 37-year civil war between leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries and the armed forces in which hundreds of unionists have died.

Coke Results

Coca-Cola reported a 22% rise in net income for the second quarter on Wednesday.

The world's biggest soft drink maker earned $1.1bn, higher than analyst forecasts, compared with $926m in the same period of 2000.

"Despite our growth in a tough economic climate, we are still not satisfied that we are reaching our full potential in some key markets, and we are determined to do so," Coca-Cola chief executive Douglas Daft said.

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