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TURKEY: Turkish Coke Bottler Under Fire

by Caroline WilbertAtlanta Journal-Constitution
November 3rd, 2005

United Students against Sweatshops, the student organization that has been trying to get Coca-Cola banned from college campuses for alleged human rights violations in Colombia, is adding Turkey to its list of concerns.

The group held a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, alleging that within the last several months, employees of a Coke bottler in Turkey were fired for joining a union. These workers protested and were beaten by police at the behest of Coke, the student group alleges.

In a related move, the International Labor Rights Fund plans to file a lawsuit next week against Coke on behalf of the Turkish workers, said the ILRF's attorney, Terry Collingsworth.

Coke says the labor dispute in Turkey has been resolved.

"The Coca-Cola Co. and its bottling partners comply with all applicable labor and employment laws in the countries in which we do business," said Coke spokeswoman Kari Bjorhus in a statement. "We recognize international labor standards and are committed to respecting the workplace human rights of our employees and the parties with whom we do business. We respect our employees' right to join or not join labor unions, and ensure that those rights are exercised without fear of retaliation, repression or any other form of discrimination."

The action Wednesday is part of a much broader campaign that the United Students against Sweatshops, the International Labor Rights Fund and other labor activists have been waging against Coca-Cola in recent years.

The majority of protest activity has centered on accusations the company has been complicit in violence against union members in Colombia. Coke has vigorously denied the charges.

Subway makes switch

In other Coca-Cola news, Subway, the world's largest sandwich chain, on Wednesday said it completed the conversion of its North American restaurants to sell beverages from Coke instead of Pepsico.

More than 23,000 Subway restaurants worldwide will offer a range of Coke products, the privately held company said. The 10-year deal is valued at $2 billion.

Pepsico, the No. 2 soft drink company behind Coke, was the lead beverage supplier to Milford, Conn.-based Subway for more than three decades, although Coca-Cola supplied about 15 percent of the restaurants.

The completion of this deal comes at a time of intense competition between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which are battling for the allegiance of increasingly picky U.S. consumers.

After reports of Subway's planned switch to Coke in 2003, Quiznos Sub, the third-largest U.S. sandwich chain, signed a deal in August 2004 to serve Pepsico drinks in its U.S. outlets, ending a 23-year relationship with Coke.

The United States is the largest market for the soft drink giants.

"Now that the conversion is complete, we are looking forward to working with the Coca-Cola team to reduce costs and drive increased franchisee sales and profit through a number of defined initiatives," Dennis Clabby, vice president of Subway's franchisee-owned cooperative, the Independent Purchasing Cooperative, said in the release.

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