The Coca-Cola Co. has come out fighting against what it calls "false and inflammatory" allegations by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The company has said that it is "greatly disappointed and offended" by the allegations made yesterday (7 February).

In a statement, the Teamsters said that delegates to the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference had unanimously endorsed a resolution authorising its leadership to seek a just resolution of the dispute between Coke and student, labour and human rights groups, "in response to (protests against) human rights violations at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia and around the world."

"Our union brothers and sisters at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia have been threatened, kidnapped, tortured and murdered," said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. "It's long past time for Coca-Cola to negotiate a global human rights agreement that will protect the rights and safety of workers who produce, package and distribute Coca-Cola products."

Conference director and Teamster international vice president, Jack Cipriani, said Coca-Cola's labour abuses in the US includes harassment, intimidation, discrimination and retaliation at CCE facilities as well as at Odwalla and Minute Maid operations - both wholly-owned by the Coke.

"I would stand our company's labour relations practices alongside any other company on the planet," countered Ed Potter, director of global labour relations for Coke, yesterday. "These unjustified attacks do a disservice to the men and women of Coca-Cola, they mislead the public and impede progress for workers' rights worldwide."

The company pointed to two different judicial inquiries in Colombia, which, it said, have found no evidence to support allegations that bottler management there conspired to intimidate or threaten trade unionists.

Late last month, Coke said that it was "facilitating the design and development of another credible, objective and impartial independent third party assessment in Colombia during the first quarter of 2006. The assessment will involve international labour organisations and non- governmental organisations and will be conducted with the cooperation of its Colombian bottling partners," the company said.

"I am unaware of the Teamsters ever being involved in productive discussions addressing the issues facing Colombian workers. It is clear that the Teamsters know nothing about our operations in Colombia," said Potter. "These irresponsible accusations do a disservice to their own membership."