Bottles are stacked at Coca-Cola's new Latino America laboratory in Mexico City. Jose Armando Palacios and eight other plaintiffs filed a complaint last Friday in New York State Supreme Court against Coca-Cola. Image Credit: Bloomberg News

New York: Coca-Cola was sued by Guatemalan workers who say they endured a "campaign of violence" by people working on behalf of bottling and processing plants Coke owns or owned there after they engaged in union activities.

Jose Armando Palacios of Guatemala and eight other plaintiffs filed the complaint last Friday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging negligence, deceptive practices and other claims against Coca-Cola, the world's biggest soda maker.

The plaintiffs said they were the victims of violence and retaliation by individuals associated with Industria de Cafi SA, or Incasa, which operates an instant coffee and Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City. The plaintiffs said Incasa "is or was previously owned by Coca-Cola".

Unionised workers

"Incasa is Coke's agent," the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit. "At the time of the events alleged, Coke knew or was substantially certain that it and its bottlers were doing business in an environment in Guatemala where their unionised workers were at great risk of being tortured and/or killed by groups responsible for violence against trade unionists in Guatemala."

Kerry Kerr, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, declined comment on the lawsuit, saying the company hadn't received a copy of the complaint. She said in an e-mail that, while Incasa is independently owned, Coca-Cola has a minority share in the business.

Saul Arriega, who identified himself as a supervisor at Incasa's offices in Guatemala, said he wasn't aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment further. The plaintiffs, according to the complaint, were engaged in union organising, recruiting and collective bargaining.

Palacios, an Incasa employee for 27 years who worked as a security guard, said he quit a company-based union in 1991. He said he received threats and that there were multiple attempts on his life after he re-joined the union in January 2004. The plaintiffs said in the complaint that they filed the lawsuit in New York because Coca-Cola has offices there and because remedies in Guatemala are "inadequate and would not afford the complete relief" available in US courts.

The case is Jose Armand Palacios, v. The Coca-Cola Co., 102514/2010, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).