Risk & Compliance

Scuffle at Coca-Cola Annual Meeting

''Coke adds life'' to question-and-answer session.
Stephen TaubApril 22, 2004

Shareholder activism has apparently become a contact sport.

A shareholder who accused Coca-Cola Co. of violating human rights in Colombia was shoved to the ground and forcibly removed from the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Ray Rogers, reported the wire service, had been shouting and swearing at chairman and chief executive officer Doug Daft during a question-and-answer session at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. Rogers, the president of Corporate Campaign Inc., has encouraged student protests in support of union workers in Colombia’s Coca-Cola bottling plants, according to the Atlanta Business Journal.

After allowing Rogers to speak for about five minutes — during which he accused Coca-Cola of being “rife with corruption,” reported the Journal — the company turned off the audience microphone. When Roger would not stop talking or leave the microphone, added the paper, six plainclothes Wilmington Police officers first tried to move him, then wrestled him to the ground and escorted him from the meeting. Rogers was not injured or arrested, according to the Journal.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who addressed the meeting about minority opportunities at the company — and especially about the recent resignation of general counsel Deval Patrick, Coca-Cola’s highest-ranking black executive— criticized the company for removing Rogers with “excessive” force, noted the paper. A Teamsters representative, added the Journal, whose union offered a proposal to split the chairman and CEO positions, said he was “ashamed” at the removal of Rogers.

A number of U.S. and Colombian labor activists have accused Coke and its Colombian bottlers of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate union activists at bottling plants in Columbia, according to Reuters. More than half a dozen activists who worked at Coke bottling plants in that country have been murdered since 1989, added the wire service, citing a Colombian union that has sued Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers in U.S. courts.

Daft accused unions of “twisting facts” and making “false and outrageous” allegations against the company, according to the Journal. “What is happening in Colombia is a tragedy,” he continued, “but the Coca-Cola Co. has nothing to do with it.”

During more-serene moments at the meeting, Coca-Cola shareholders re-elected all 16 board members to another one-year term, including Warren Buffett. Last week, Calpers said it would withhold its vote for the billionaire investor and five other directors because they are members of the audit committee that authorized the auditor to perform non-audit services. Buffett received about 84 percent of votes cast by shareholders, according to Reuters.

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