Coke contract goes flat at Mac

Students at McMaster voted to oppose the university’s contract with Coca-Cola.
Students at McMaster voted to oppose the university’s contract with Coca-Cola.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Last week, students at McMaster University decided they don’t want it to be “always Coca-Cola” on their campus.

Students voted last Wednesday and Thursday for the McMaster Student Union (MSU) to urge the university not to renew its 10-year exclusivity contract with the Coca-Cola Company when it expires in two years.

“I am not surprised about the outcome,” Roger Trull, McMaster’s VP of university advancement, told the Journal. “I think that we have a group of students on campus who believed in their cause and they worked hard to convince others that it would be better for McMaster not to have such an agreement.”

Last Wednesday, The Globe and Mail reported that Ray Rogers, an American activist and president of Corporate Campaign Inc., spoke at McMaster on Tuesday, the day before voting began.

Rogers, who heads a group called Killer Coke, gave a presentation to McMaster students on why Coke should not be sold exclusively on their campus.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, he said the Coca-Cola company should be held accountable for the torture and murder of trade union leaders at Coca-Cola manufacturing plants in Colombia.

Rogers also spoke last year to Queen’s students on campus about Coke’s alleged role in environmental damage in India.

MSU VP of Administration John Popham said the referendum consisted of three statements, for which students could either vote “yes” or “no.”

“The first statement was: ‘I believe that the McMaster Student Union should officially oppose the McMaster University/Coca-Cola exclusive supplier agreement,’” he said.

Popham said 1,492 students voted in favour of the statement, 533 voted against and 101 abstained. There were 90 spoiled ballots and 12 students declined to vote.

Popham said that some students declined to vote because other referendums were occurring and students decided not to take the ballot regarding the contract, but voted on other issues.

The two other statements posed to students were whether the MSU should refrain from renewing or renegotiating a contract between the MSU and McMaster for the exclusive provision of cold-beverage products, and whether the MSU should urge the university not to renew or renegotiate its contract with Coca-Cola for the exclusive provision of cold beverage products, he said.

Popham added 1,410 students voted in favour of the second statement, 555 voted against, 139 abstained, 89 were spoiled and 35 declined. Regarding the final statement, 1,513 students voted in favour, 511 voted against it, 86 abstained, 88 were spoiled and 12 declined.

“I am very happy that students have shown a strong favor towards one opinion,” Popham said. “As for the voting, it was nice that the quorum was reached, but it would have been nice to see more people voting.”

Trull said more than 17,000 students were eligible to vote in the McMaster referendum, provided they were members of the MSU.

Just over 2,000 students voted in the referendum.

Popham explained that the MSU will now suggest the university refrain from any kind of contract with Coca-Cola.

“The next step is to follow what the students have recommended,” he said.

Trull said McMaster now has three options. The first is to renegotiate with Coke, the second to negotiate with another supplier like Pepsi, and the third is to not have a contract at all.

“[The] issue we will have to face as a community is how we are going to make up that shortfall,” he said, noting that the contract with Coca-Cola provides $6 million for the university.

Trull added McMaster will involve students in the discussion process.

Queen’s also signed a 10-year contract with Coca-Cola in 2000, which will provide the University with $5.5 million dollars.

According to the Queen’s contract, which was obtained by the Journal last year through the University’s freedom of information guidelines, Coca-Cola has the exclusive right to sell cold beverages on campus, along with guaranteed advertising and signage space on campus. In addition, the contract gives Coca-Cola the right to be the official sponsor of the Golden Gaels and to exclude their biggest competitor, Pepsi, from almost any presence on campus.

Alex Caldararu, MA ’06 and member of Queen’s University Against Killer Coke (QUAKC), said he’s happy with the voting outcome at McMaster.

“I think for QUAKC, this is a positive step forward by McMaster and sends a strong message to the administration,” he said.

Caldararu said QUAKC recently has been working behind the scenes on Queen’s campus.

“Last week we started setting up information booths at various locations on campus,” he said. “We are working towards having some presentations on campus dealing with Coca-Cola and bottled water.”

As for organizing a referendum on campus similar to the one at McMaster, Caldararu said as far as he is concerned, all options are on the table, although he said he could not speak for the entire group.

He also said there is no point for QUAKC to wait until the Coca-Cola contract is up for renewal to act.

“I think, as far as QUAKC is concerned, the sooner the University’s contractual obligation to Coca-Cola has ended, the better,” he said. “QUAKC is just as much about educating the student population about the role Coca-Cola plays locally and internationally as we are about actually ending [the] contract.” VP (University Affairs) Shiva Mayer said the AMS would be open to student involvement in determining the direction of a stance on Coke similar to that at McMaster.

“Obviously if a student wanted to bring forth the idea of a question, we would certainly be open to exploring that possibility,” he said.

However, Mayer said the Coca-Cola agreement is with the University and not with the AMS, and the contract is not currently up for renegotiation.

“These two things mean that any question that would run, while that would [show] an interesting gauge of student opinion, it wouldn’t be binding upon the University to do anything.”

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