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5 Jan 2006

Andrew Ward, Financial Times

Coke struggles to defend positive reputation

...[Over] recent years, the deaths [of eight union leaders at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia] have become an international cause célèbre for labour rights groups and student activists, who accuse Coke of turning a blind eye to the murders. Anti-Coke campaigns have spread across more than 100 university campuses throughout the US, Canada and Europe, including the UK, where activists are pushing for a nationwide student boycott... In addition to alleged labour abuses in Colombia, activists accuse Coke of damaging the environment in India by exploiting and polluting scarce water resources around its bottling plants... The company vehemently denies wrongdoing in either Colombia or India and has set up a task force to make its case to student and university leaders. But the public relations offensive has so far failed to slow the campaign's momentum. Loss of sales from a handful of universities will have little immediate impact on a company with annual revenues of about $22bn. But Coke says it is "very concerned" about the damage to its reputation among young consumers.