The AFT and the Coca-Cola Company have signed an agreement pledging to work together to address issues related to child labor in the sugar cane harvest.
The new partnership agreement was signed March 23 by AFT President Randi Weingarten and Ed Potter, Coke's director of global workplace rights. Also on hand was former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, who is a member of the Coca-Cola board of directors.
Under the agreement, which the two organizations will review at least once a year, the AFT and Coca-Cola will:
- Collaborate to identify local stakeholders in specific countries with expertise in education and/or addressing child labor to facilitate child labor due diligence studies.
- Facilitate the participation of AFT global affiliates Education International and Public Services International in local multistakeholder convenings, as needed.
- Collaborate on approaches to the remediation of child labor (when it is identified) and the advancement of school attendance, including engaging with a broader group of stakeholders, as needed.
These days, particularly with the fight over trade agreements, there is tremendous friction between the interests of multinational corporations and those who represent working families. "So when we find ways to benefit the common good, by labor and corporations working together—in this instance, addressing child labor and the safety of workers who want to form unions—then we should," Weingarten said during the signing.
The AFT and Coca-Cola, the agreement says, "look forward to having a positive impact on mitigating child labor in the sugar cane harvest."
The agreement follows a series of productive discussions between the AFT and Coca-Cola following the AFT's adoption of a resolution last fall calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola products based on the company's violation of workers' rights and child labor laws. One of those meetings was at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta with AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, who also co-chairs the Child Labor Coalition.
"The work of this agreement has already started, as we have connected Coca-Cola to our Education International partner unions in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras," Johnson says. "Teacher union leaders in those countries have been asked to collaborate with stakeholders in studies to identify and ameliorate child labor in the sugar cane harvest. I look forward to report on this work to the Child Labor Coalition."
As a result of these discussions, the AFT executive council in February adopted a new resolution ending the boycott. That resolution says that "it's clear the Coca-Cola Company has taken significant steps—many of which predate our boycott resolution—including working with global and local unions and other stakeholders to address workers' rights and child labor issues."
The resolution calls on the AFT and the Coca-Cola Company to "collaborate in areas where we have a strong mutual interest, such as the elimination of hazardous child labor and advocating for increased educational opportunities for children as the best way to eliminate the poverty that is the root cause of child labor."
[Dan Gursky, Tish Olshefski, Eric Duncan/photo by Michael Campbell]