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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 10:31 GMT
Mexican shopkeeper defeats Coke
Victorious Mexican shopkeeper Raquel Chavez
Ms Chavez said she wasn't prepared to be crushed like an ant
A small shopkeeper in Mexico City has won a David versus Goliath legal battle against the US drinks firm, Coca-Cola.

When Coca-Cola's Mexican subsidiary told Raquel Chavez to get rid of a rival cola product or else they might stop selling her Coke, she took action.

She complained to Mexican competition authorities, who have now hit Coca-Cola with fines totalling $68m (40m).

Ms Chavez, 49, said she would not be "crushed like an ant". Coca-Cola denies wrongdoing and has lodged an appeal.

Rival cola

The row started bubbling in 2002 when the fast-talking shopkeeper began to stock Big Cola, a newly created rival product from Peru.

You [Coca-Cola] may call the shots everywhere else, but I'm the boss in my store
Raquel Chavez

Big Cola was instantly popular in Ms Chavez's deprived suburb as it is significantly cheaper than Coke and the other big name soft drink brands.

When a Coca-Cola distributor told Ms Chavez to remove the product from her shelves, she went to Mexico's Federal Competition Commission.

Now three years later, Coca-Cola's Mexican unit - Coca-Cola Export Corporation - and a number of its distributors and bottlers have been hit with fines of $68m.

Some $13m of this is directly a result of Ms Chavez's complaint, and $53m is thanks to a parallel case brought by Coca-Cola's main rival Pepsi.

'Standing up'

"I told them [Coca-Cola], 'you can't refuse to sell to me, that's unconstitutional'," said Ms Chavez.

Coca-Cola advertising
Coca-Cola dominates the Mexican soft drinks market

"I didn't really know if it was unconstitutional, but I said it anyway."

She added that she told the Coca-Cola distributor: "You may call the shots everywhere else, but I'm the boss in my store."

Ms Chavez said she felt proud after her victory, but she did not expect to win.

"I was sure we would lose, because in Mexico for so long, people get away with anything," she said.

"Maybe now people will start standing up for themselves."

Appeal process

Coca-Cola spokesman Charlie Sutlive said the company respected the decision of Mexican competition authorities.

"However, we have used the appeal processes open to us to present arguments that our business practices comply with Mexican competition laws, and to demonstrate that our commercial practices are fair," he said.

Analysts expect the fines to be reduced after the appeal process.

More Coca-Cola products are consumed per person in Mexico than any other country, and the company has 70% of the nation's soft drinks market.

In June, Coca-Cola in Europe formally agreed to end deals with shops and bars to stock its drinks exclusively after a European Union investigation found its business methods stifled competition.

In Mexico City Ms Chavez is now continuing with work as normal at her shop.

"I am a common citizen who demands her rights, but won't allow herself to be stepped on, that's all," she said.

Your comments:

I think this is a fantastic ruling, and hopefully it will be upheld in the face of any appeal. While we never stop hearing about the benefits of free-trade, it seems that it only exists for the big companies and powerful countries. There are so many restrictive practises in place that affect consumers, it is time they were highlighted and torn down.
John Brophy, Bray, Ireland

Good on her - let's hope she sets an example to more people to stand up to the big bully boys.
Nathalie Marshall, Swindon UK

I think this is a wonderful ruling for ordinary people everywhere. Hopefully more people will be encouraged and inspired by Ms. Chavez's story.
Lewis Turner, Beit Sahour, Palestine

Ms Chavez is to be applauded in her successful fight. Multinationals practicing anti-competition and protectionism should be challenged at every level to level the playing field for smaller businesses.
Lorraine Groves, London, UK

I think this story only highlights the edge that companies will go to, to have a monopoly in a store, or store chain or even as evident from this story a country wide monopoly. I think it is totally unjust of Coke to do so and am glad that a big corporate has been hit with a big fine, if only more of this actually happened around the world rather than just being slapped on the wrist for doing something wrong!
Luke, Reading, Berkshire

I sincerely congratulate Mrs. Chavez.
Servi, Mexico

Coca Cola are quite within their rights to ask any shop owner to not sell another brand, in the same way it is the shop owners right to refuse the request. If Coca Cola want to refuse to sell to any individual, then that is their prerogative as the manufacturer. The shop owner must decide whether they make more profit from a variety of other brands, or by stocking only Coca Cola's brand. I thought this freedom of choice for all was an integral part of the capitalist society.
Darren, Staffs, UK

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