Union network launched to tackle organizing, worker rights at PepsiCo

9 December 2010 blog

November 30/December 1, a core group of IUF affiliates met for a first global PepsiCo Unions strategy meeting.

They discussed developments in PepsiCo, which is quickly expanding its beverage and snacks businesses into emerging markets and is extending its operations towards what has become known as “nutrition”. After integration of its major bottlers and a number of important acquisitions, the company is now the second biggest food and beverage company in the world, just after Nestlé.

The acquisition of Wimm-Bill-Dann, a major Russian dairy and juice producer, on the next day after the meeting confirms these developments. Including Wimm-Bill-Dann, PepsiCo now will have almost 300.000 direct employees.

But while PepsiCo makes all efforts to present itself as “corporate responsible”, this responsibility stops short when it comes to giving those employees proper rights and a voice at global level. Thus, the company has failed to respond to the IUF as the representative trade union federation organizing the company’s employees at global level. Its unilateral CSR policies fall short of recognizing basic human rights in the sphere of labour relations.

Into current times, the echo resounds of how European PepsiCo employee representatives were treated back in 1996 when the company forced a “European Employee Forum” (EEF) agreement on them effectively depriving them until today of an effective European Works Council. At the last EEF meeting it was revealed that delegates were not even provided with copies of this, still unchanged agreement, and a delegate asking for a discussion on renegotiation was told that this question would be discussed with “each delegate individually after the meeting”.

“We’ve made – through struggle and negotiation – progress with Coca-Cola, PepsiCos biggest competitor, and we’ve made progress with a number of other major food companies, sometimes after bitter struggles. It is time for PepsiCo to talk in a serious way to its workers, represented by the IUF and its affiliates – said Ron Oswald, IUF General Secretary.

It was also reported, that workers deciding to organize into a union in PepsiCo – a basic right of any worker – face strong opposition from PepsiCo management in many countries. However despite these troubles, workers are organizing in PepsiCo and insist in their right to a voice at work. Tens of thousands of PepsiCo workers are union members in a number of IUF affiliates in the US and Canada, still PepsiCos biggest markets.

Delegates were also informed that the British GMB has recently successfully sought recognition at the Peterlee Snacks plant despite strong management resistance – a plant that had been decertified in a union busting exercise years ago. In Turkey, Tekgida-Is, the union organizing PepsiCo beverage workers, is also working on organizing Frito-Lay workers.

Delegates from other countries also reported about organizing and coordination activities, all geared at improving worker representation and workers’ situation in PepsiCo and related businesses. Meeting participants pointed out that the direct regular workers are by far not all who work for the company. Speakers from a number of countries, including South Africa, Brazil, and India, pointed out the very high number of casual workers employed in production of PepsiCo products, both on the snacks and beverage side. These employment practices are subject to protest and negotiations to reduce the very high numbers, sometimes up to 80%, of casual employees. In Brazil, it took a complaint with the Labour Minstry to reach a reduction by 20% in the snacks factories, which however results in still unacceptably high levels.

Besides, even after the acquisition of the two biggest bottlers, by far not all workers are employed by PepsiCo – many still working for bottlers, franchisees, copackers and in other arrangements, like the Cabcorp bottler in Central America or Jaipuria Group in India, extending to a number of other countries. However the meeting claimed that PepsiCo must take responsibility for all workers producing PepsiCo branded products.

The meeting agreed to form a global PepsiCo Workers network, and to “call on IUF affiliates with (potential) membership in PepsiCo to join and actively support the network, and strengthen efforts to organize PepsiCo workers.” A detailed action plan was worked out. Documents of the meeting are available to IUF affiliates on request. Please contact the secretariat if you are interested in joining the network or find out more about the meeting.

The meeting’s resolution resolved to “stand together in solidarity against any attack on workers rights in PepsiCo, and to work towards achieving global recognition in PepsiCo for the IUF global PepsiCo Unions network”

PepsiCo Workers Unite!

Join the IUF global PepsiCo Unions network!