More harmful than sweet

Contributor examines the negative effects of the renewed Coca-Cola exclusivity agreement

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Matthew Muto, ArtSci ’14

On Oct. 5, the Journal published a story announcing that Queen’s would renew their contract with Coca-Cola to provide Coke products exclusively on campus. For some, this renewal has been nothing but a passing thought while for others it’s contentious.

Queen’s has no responsibility to Coke or any other soft drink companies’ products. Picking a side in the marketplace for unhealthy drinks makes the signing of the contract frivolous. It’s an inefficient use of resources to help exclusively sell a product that brings with it a number of health, environmental and moral issues.

By partnering with a company like Coke, Queen’s is making several negative statements. First, they’re saying that they’re more worried about their budget than the health of their students.

Coca-Cola contains 65 grams of sugar for every individual bottle and, like many soft drinks, contributes to the obesity pandemic spreading across North America. Not only does it look like the value of students’ health is being sold away, but questions of morality also come into play.

Coke has had their labour practices questioned and scrutinized over the years. KillerCoke.org has cited many of Coca-Cola’s court cases. Allegations of intimidation and torture have been made, supposedly justified by Coke to stop plants in developing countries from unionizing. It doesn’t look good on Queen’s if it strikes a deal with a company that is constantly in legal battle over business ethics. It could potentially alienate alumni from donating if the school’s reputation is tarnished and seen in a negative light by the public.

Corporations have gained the ability to negatively influence many institutions through money. Being able to make or break a budget for schools gives companies like Coke the opportunity to make decisions — ones that will most likely be in their own interest.

Some may argue that the reason this contract exists is because of the ongoing competition between Coke and Pepsi, but neither company’s business is a necessity for Queen’s. This too is a faulty argument in favour of exclusivity. Both companies create an unhealthy beverage that isn’t necessary to the well-being of anyone in the Queen’s community.

Both companies are certainly rich enough to continue selling their products while not being affiliated with Queen’s. According to Forbes.com, Pepsi has made $6.4 billion in profit this year while Coke has made $8.6 billion.

While the administration may argue that the money gathered from the contract is put towards popular causes on campus, other schools have done away with Coke’s exclusivity and are doing fine, further reinforcing the lack of utility an exclusivity agreement has.

In 2005, McMaster ceased to continue their $6 million exclusivity contract with Coca-Cola and, no surprise, the school is still up and running. In comparison, Queen’s original contract was worth $5.8 million. If the school truly needs money from external companies, there are plenty of alternative companies that they could endorse other than Coke, like ones that were perhaps education-related.

While Coke is clearly a popular beverage it also has a spotty history. Coca-Cola has socially created the demand for their sugary, carbonated beverages that doesn’t need the assistance of an exclusivity contract. Pop wasn’t something that was inherently wanted by anyone. A pharmacist created the “need” for their product himself. In the late 1800s, Coca-Cola launched as a beverage containing elements of cocaine until society’s views on cocaine changed and it became outlawed.

Like any product on the food and drink market, some enjoy it and some don’t. It’s best to let students decide whether to sign a Coke exclusivity contract.

What’s deplorable is that students didn’t get to vote on it like McMaster did. The contract was originally supposed to expire in 2010 but because Queen’s was unable to meet the sales expectations that were written in the contract, it had to be extended for two more years.

With the renewal we’re stuck with another 10 years of Coke exclusivity (at least). It has to be asked: why does Queen’s need to sign an exclusive agreement to sell specific products on campus? The answer is it doesn’t.

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