Coke fizzles at three universities

Queen’s signed a 10-year contract with Coke in 2000, bringing the University an estimated $5.5 million.
Queen’s signed a 10-year contract with Coke in 2000, bringing the University an estimated $5.5 million.
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Three more university contracts with Coca-Cola have fizzled in the last two months.

“Every time we have another campus removing Coca-Cola from campus or [when] another one gets involved in the campaign, that just increases the pressure on the company to clean up its act,” said Ray Rogers, an American activist and president of Corporate Campaign Inc., the company that created the lobby group Killer Coke.

On Jan. 1, the University of Michigan (U-M) stopped selling Coke products on its campus after refusing to renew the university’s contract with the global beverage company.

U-M had requested that Coca-Cola undergo an independent third-party investigation into the issues surrounding fair labour practices and safe working environments in Colombia and sustainable environmental practices in India.

According to correspondence published on the U-M website between university administration and Coca-Cola, the Dispute Review Board (DRB) of U-M required that an agreement between the university and the company be reached by Dec. 31, regarding the selection of a third-party auditor and specific protocols for an independent review of the company’s practices in India and Colombia.

Student activists at U-M had been campaigning against Coca-Cola for more than a year.

U-M had 20 separate groups on campus representing a total of 5,000 students interested in boycotting Coca-Cola.

Rogers said Killer Coke helped to organize a coalition between the groups and sent speakers to campus to address the student body about the Colombian and Indian issues.

“They were all working on this [campaign] and we were working alongside them from day one,” he said.

The U-M Coalition to Cut the Contract with Coca-Cola (U-MCCCCC), wanted Coke off its campus because of the allegations surrounding human rights violations in Colombia and environmental damage in India at Coca-Cola bottling plants.

Ashwini Hardikar, a fourth-year student and member of the U-MCCCCC, said the coalition is very excited about the decision to suspend Coke products at the university.

“We feel this is a victory for our campaign and also for student activism in general,” she said. “But at the same time, we know that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to make sure that the investigation of the violations actually happens.” Rogers said the university had refused to renew their contract with Coca-Cola and had been on a month-by-month basis.

The University Record Online published that the DRB recommended in June that contracts with Coca-Cola be extended on a short-term, conditional basis while the company responds to the alleged violations.

U-M had 13 direct and indirect contracts with Coca-Cola and its bottlers, most of which expired between June and November of 2005.

Representatives from the Michigan Students’ Union could not be reached for comment.

Over the last few weeks, other universities worldwide have also expressed concrete opposition to the Coca-Cola Company’s alleged practices.

On Dec. 9, New York University (NYU) also pulled Coke’s products from its vending machines. According to a press release from NYU’s office of public affairs, the decision to remove the products was based on a resolution passed by NYU Senate, which gave the Coca-Cola Company a deadline of Dec. 8 to agree to a third-party investigation.

NYU did not have a contract with Coke, but did sell their products on campus.

On Dec. 6, the York University Students’ Union (YUSU), in the United Kingdom, passed a motion in favor of boycotting Coke products.

In the motion the YUSU noted the Coca-Cola Company and its affiliates “are responsible for, by action or omission, the destruction of the union movement. This destruction has resulted in the assassination of nine workers, the exile of two, the forced displacement of 48, death threats against 67, and imprisonment by false accusation for 15 workers who were singled out by Coca-Cola managers as terrorists and criminals, all of which has stigmatized and demonized our union activities.”

Last October, the Journal reported that students at McMaster University voted to back the McMaster Student Union in urging the university not to renew its 10-year exclusivity contract with the Coca-Cola Company.

Rogers said Killer Coke encourages universities and colleges not to allow Coca-Cola to use their campuses as a marketplace for its sales and advertising.

“No campus that prides itself as having a centre of ethics and morality should be lending its name, logo and credibility,” Rogers said.

“When consumers think of Coca-Cola, they should think of a company that has brought great despair to many people and communities around the world.”

Rogers added that 21 institutions worldwide have boycotted Coca-Cola; 13 in the United States and eight elsewhere.

“[Coca-Cola] is a company that refuses to do the right thing for the right reasons and therefore, we force the company to take the low road to morality,” Rogers said. “This means forcing them to do the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong reason being that they need to be forced to do it.”

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

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 at the University.

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.

Shiva Mayer, AMS VP (university affairs) said recent university boycotts are the latest in a growing trend.

“The groundswell is in the direction of asking these questions about Coke,” he said.

“I think a lot of groups on our campus have been investigating the situation.”

Mayer added that because Queen’s is under contract, the University is in a different situation than a school like NYU.

“Legal action [against Coca-Cola] would be sticky,” Mayer said.

In 2004, Rogers visited the University which spurred the organzation of Queen’s University Against Killer Coke on campus.

Rogers said he would consider returning to Queen’s as the contract’s expiration date approached.

“When I left in 2004, there was quite a strong organization and support,” he said.

A representative from Coca-Cola could not be reached for comment.

—With files from umich.edu, nyu.edu, killercoke.org and yusu.org.

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