Forget “happy,” the ubiquitous marketing theme from Coca-Cola Co. When it comes to a new documentary accusing the company of human rights abuses in Colombia, consider the company “steamed.”
Colombia is a nagging public relations problem that refuses to go away, despite Coca-Cola’s wins in court.
The allegations through the years have been some of the most explosive ever leveled at the Atlanta company, ranging from intimidation to murder.
Now, a Canadian film club promoting a documentary called “The Coca-Cola Case” has drawn a stern response from the company, which wants to clear its name in the court of public opinion.
Coke says the film discloses confidential details about settlement discussions and contains decade-old allegations that are inaccurate and “defamatory.” It adds up to an unfounded portrayal of the company and its Latin American bottlers, the company said.
The film, scheduled for viewings at a sampling of Canadian universities, follows a pair of lawyers who sued Cola-Cola for murder, abduction and torture committed by paramilitary groups in Colombia and Guatemala.
The lawsuit against two Coca-Cola bottlers contended that managers conspired with paramilitary groups to squelch union activity. A federal judge in Miami dismissed the suit in 2006; Coca-Cola itself had been dismissed from the lawsuit three years earlier. Plaintiffs also had no success in Colombian courts. Coke said two inquiries there cleared it of wrongdoing.
In a letter to Montreal-based Cinema Politica, which is organizing film viewings on Canadian campuses, Coke’s lawyers said the film breaks confidentiality agreements covering discussions between the company and the plaintiffs. Those discussions did not lead to a settlement.
Showing the film again “would be a knowing violation” of confidentiality requirements, the letter said. Coca-Cola “reserves all of its rights and remedies with regard to any future showing.”
Although courts and the International Labor Organization, a unit of the United Nations, have generally sided with the company, the public relations battles have been harder to win.
Coca-Cola, always protective of its brand, did not explicitly threaten Cinema Politica with a lawsuit. Coca-Cola said the letter was meant to inform Cinema Politica that the documentary is “an uninformed and inaccurate portrayal.”
Cinema Politica says it’s going ahead with the film tour. The public attention has been a boon for the left-leaning nonprofit and its suddenly hot film. About 1,000 people showed up for one showing, a record for Cinema Politica; 300 had to be turned away.
“As far as we know, we’re within our legal rights to show the film,” said Ezra Winton, Cinema Politica’s founder. But “I’m not going to lie: It is a little intimidating to get those letters.”
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