Management at The Coca-Cola Company’s operations in the Philippines is using “red-tagging”- the public smearing of unions as subversive organizations to invite and legitimate violence and repression – in order to undermine union organization and spread fear among workers. The threat of violence is real: at least 43 trade unionists have been murdered since Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. The violence is not ‘collateral damage’ spilling over from the government’s ‘war on drugs’; it is highly selective and precisely targeted. The international trade union mobilization on December 10 exposed the scope of the practice and brought to light new cases.
On October 5 this year, management of the Coca-Cola plant in Bacolod City held a meeting for all employees, in the course of which plant security personnel, accompanied by two men who described themselves as police officers, introduced a certain Ka Tom Mateo, who described himself as a former armed insurgent now reporting directly to the president with the support of the intelligence service. He denounced the recognized union at the plant, a member of the IUF-affiliated FCCU-SENTRO, as a subversive organization, attacked the union’s collective agreement and dues structure, and urged members to resign their membership and disaffiliate from FCCU and SENTRO.
On October 17, two men identifying themselves as military officers visited the home of an elected officer of the Bacolod City Coca-Cola union who works at the factory. According to his sworn testimony, the men referred to the town hall meeting and Ka Tom Mateo, denounced the union, offered him their cooperation and encouraged him to replace the local union President. They asked why the union President had taken part in the IUF global meeting with The Coca-Cola Company’s global management in September 2018, and threatened that the government had ways of silencing troublemakers.
Coke operations in the Philippines are wholly owned by The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, USA, and managed through their Bottling Investments Group (BIG). Responsibility for intimidation and threats by management, in collusion with the military and police, lies squarely with The Coca-Cola Company, which has distinguished itself in recent years for an absolute incapacity to respond to documented human rights violations at its own operations and those of its bottlers in Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland and the USA. In the Philippines, this can have fatal consequences. Coca-Cola management in the Philippines is exposing workers to violence in order to discourage them from exercising their human rights; the Company must answer for this.