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Coca-Cola is homophobic

I’m Roberto Mendoza, for seven years I was an executive at Coca Cola FEMSA, in México and Costa Rica. Coca Cola FEMSA (KOF) is the second-largest Coca-Cola bottler, accounting for almost 10% of Coca-Cola's global sales. KOF is 39.6% wholly-owned by subsidiaries of The Coca-Cola Company. For assuming my homosexuality and protecting my partner’s integrity I was degraded, threatened and harassed, forcing me to resign.

The reason to exclude me from the company as explained by the Bottlers’ Human Resources Corporate Director, Mr. Eulalio Cerda-Delgadillo, was "... while I am head of HR for this Company, I will not have a faggot as one of its’ Directors".

During my seven years as an executive at Coca Cola FEMSA, I saved the company more than 40 million dollars, in addition to developing the Packaging Manager position, upgrading the Procurement Manager Function to Director Level and designing the corporate Procurement role at their Latin Center Division.

My case is an example of the homophobic discrimination that is still present in the business environment in Mexico. Discrimination that is prohibited by the Mexican Constitution; the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination and by the Distrito Federal’s Penal Code.


Roberto Mendoza Ralph

Facts:

1. I was hired on March 16th, 1998 as Packaging Manager to establish the function for said Bottler. Through modifying primary and secondary packaging application and design I substantially reduced Cost of Goods.

2. Two years later I was offered the Procurement General Manager Mexico position where I delivered savings and capability development of the Central Procurement Group which lead to an upgrade of the function to Director's level (07/2002). I was passed-by for this position, for no apparent reason – however my performance appraisals where always at least significantly above average.

3. On January 2003, after announcing of the purchase of PANAMCO by FEMSA, I was part of the take over assessment team and by July was asked to head the Latin Center Division procurement department for Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala, based in San José, Costa Rica.

4. As part of my relocation, and at my expense, my Same Sex Partner (of four years) went with me. We decided not to hide our relationship and introduced him to my co-workers.

5. Upon arriving at my new post, I was informed my title was to be Procurement Division Manager, while my counter parts in the other two KOF Divisions were Director, Procurement.

6. After first year savings in my Latin Center position, from raw materials, CAPEX / MROs that exceeded US$ 13 MM. and being told my function was well advanced I was asked to move back to Corporate Headquarters in Mexico City, and informally offered the Director, Technology Development position.

7. Once back in México City, in September of 2004, I was told the only available position for me was Packaging Manager. Even though this meant a six and a half years set back in my career and given no alternative, in order to stay with the Company, I accepted. I accepted only after been told that I was not given the Director Technology Development position because I was gay. The Corporate HR Director, Mr. Eulalio Cerda-Delgadillo, said: "... while I am head of HR for this Company, I will not have a faggot as one of its Directors".

8. Seeing that I was not going to give him the benefit of my resignation, as was his plan, my salary was reduced 32%. If deflated, this new salary was less than my hiring salary six and a half years ago. Finally, I was forced to sign the resignation I was handed in exchange for the severance pay specified in my ex-pat contract. October 15th, was my last day working for Coca Cola FEMSA.



In hindsight, I had been systematically discriminated ever since I was not given the position I developed back in 2002 (fact 2); things got worse after my "coming out" to my peers in Costa Rica, culminating in such harassment that forced me into resigning.
Needless to say this has devastated me, loosing my job, a career I had worked so much to build. Why should my sexual preference be a handicap in the advancement of my career?
Since then, I've gone to the Mexican governmental agency CONAPRED (National Council for Discrimination Prevention) whose mission is to promote equal opportunities for minority groups, and files a complaint: CONAPRED/DGAQR/151/05/DQ/I/DF/Q70. After reviewing my case in detail, it was qualified by them as "an act of discrimination has taken place". They got in touch with the Company in order to establish a conciliatory process and offer Diversity Training so that nothing of the sort would happen again. KOF management declined to abide by this recommendation.

In my quest for prevention of future discrimination cases within one of the Coca Cola System's main Bottlers and in the Industry in general, I have initiated legal action against KOF and some of its Top Management both in Civil (case 385/2005, Juzgado TRIGÉSIMO DE LO CIVIL EN EL DISTRITO FEDERAL), and Criminal (investigation N° FACI/50T3/1001/0510, PROCURADURIA GENERAL DE JUSTICIA DEL DISTRITO FEDERAL) Courts. In lieu of their actions, I considered it to be the only way I could work for lesbian, gay and bisexual equal rights.

This case is only one of many that constantly take place in Mexico and, for lack of a denouncement culture, go unnoticed.

Roberto Mendoza

VIDEO (spanish)






Roberto Mendoza speech in the 23rd World Conference of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, in Geneva, Switzerland
28 Mar 2006


Bon jour, madam e monsieur,
Gutten morgen, mainen demen und herren,
Bueno días, damas y caballeros,
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the organization committee for giving me the opportunity to participate at this conference and share with you my experience.

Let me start my participation with a question:

How can it be that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, that have done so much for equality in their own companies, invest in a company who’s Human Resources Director thinks and acts on the principle of: “While I am head of HR for Coca Cola FEMSA I will not have a faggot as one of its Directors”.

I am Roberto Mendoza and am here to share with you the Discrimination I was subjected to at Coca Cola FEMSA.

Coca Cola FEMSA is the second largest Coca Cola Bottler world wide, representing 10 percent of Coca Cola sales and 4 out of 10 Coca Colas sold in Latin America. Operation in 10 countries and with annual sales of 4.2 billion dollars.

I worked there for almost seven years. Held four management positions, generating the Company over 40 million dollars in savings. I participated in new business developments and the Company’s operation abroad until the Human Resources Director, Mr. Eulalio Cerda, decided to restrict my development opportunities because I am gay.

The facts are:

In 1998, following a long and competitive hiring process, I was hired as Corporate Packaging Manager.

Two years later, I was named General Manager for Mexico Procurement. I modernized the department, boosted personnel motivation and service levels, and increased the area’s roles and responsibilities that lead to an upgrade of the function to Director Level (July 2002). For no apparent reason and regardless of my excellent performance appraisals this position, which I had created, was given to someone else. I was asked to take a lateral move to Logistics.

A few months later, in January 2003, I became part of the diagnostics and takeover team of the acquired territories from PANAMCO.

By July 2003, I was offered to assume the Procurement responsibility for the newly formed Latin Center Division (six countries), based in San José – Costa Rica. My partner of five years and I moved to Central America. Because of our ex-pat status we decided to openly assume our relationship and I introduced him to my colleagues.

Upon arriving at my post, I was informed it would de Procurement Manager, while my counterparts in Mexico and MercoSur Divisions would be Procurement Directors.

After saving the company 13 million dollars during my first year at Latin Centro, I was asked to return to the Corporate Offices in Mexico City, with the argument that my work abroad was well advanced. I was offered the Director of Technological Development position – as suggested by the Company’s President Mr. Carlos Salazar.

Soon after this, I was informed that the only post available for me was Packaging Manager.

Even though this represented a career set back of six and a half years – to my hiring position in the Company, I accepted. I accepted, only after being told that the Director of Technological Development job had been denied to me because I am gay. Eulalio Cerda, Head of Human Resources said at an executives meeting: “While I am head of HR for Coca Cola FEMSA I will not have a faggot as one of its Directors”.

Despite this and a 32 percent pay cut, I did not give them the benefit of my resignation.

In the days that followed, I was continually harassed at work, all my decisions and actions were being scrutinized and questioned. On October 12, 2004 I was finally fired, later this was doctored up to look like a resignation.

Needless to say, this has left me emotionally and financially devastated. Why should my sexual orientation be an obstacle to the development of my career? Why for assuming my homosexuality and protecting my partner’s integrity must I be degraded, threatened and harassed, forcing me out of a Company to which I gave so much?

My case is an example of the homophobic discrimination that is still present in the Business Environment in Mexico and most of Latin America. Discrimination that is prohibited by the Mexican Constitution; the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination and by the Distrito Federal’s Penal Code.

I have since started a law suit for Moral Damage, due to discrimination for sexual orientation in the Civil Courts and initiated legal action in the Criminal Courts as well.

The first and second phase of the Civil suit has resulted in favorable rulings for me, but here is still a lot way to go to finally win the case.

This case is only one of many that daily happen in Mexico, the tip of the iceberg if you may, but because of the lack of a denouncement culture go unnoticed and some times applauded – based on a double standard morale.

White collar hate crimes because of homophobia crimes exist.

For Coca Cola FEMSA, hiring people with physical disabilities and assigning them to a call center, regardless of the intellectual capacity, is enough to cleanse their social conscience.

My objective, by making this public and following with all the legal procedures is to influence the Business Community to abolish discrimination in the workplace and to help forge an equality and inclusion culture that truly celebrates diversity.

For your attention, I thank you – I am now open for any questions you may have.

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