Funding for Killer Coke a real twist

A group dedicated to putting a stop to Coca-Cola’s exclusivity on campus has a new sponsor: Coca-Cola.

The University announced last week that Queen’s University Against Killer Coke (QUAKC), received a $2,000 grant from the University’s Cold Beverage Exclusivity Fund (CBEF), as part of the Cold Beverage Exclusivity agreement with the University.

QUAKC runs the “Killer Coke” campaign, which spreads awareness about the business practices of Coca-Cola, and aims to pressure the University to break its 10-year exclusivity deal.

The group was formed by students last year in response to allegations of human rights violations and environmental infringements at Coca-Cola bottling factories in Colombia and India.

“The manager of the Coca-Cola bottling plant has gone on record saying he OK-ed intimidation,” said Eric de Domenico, ArtSci ‘08 and QUAKC representative.

He said he thinks that using the grant is an appropriate use of funds whose existence his group opposes.

“If blood money is going to exist on campus, the best use of that is to turn it directly against the source,” he said.

CBEF is financed by Coca-Cola, but grants are distributed through Queen’s Hospitality and Residence Services via a committee composed of two students and three University staff members.

“It’s not Coca-Cola who decides who gets the money,” de Domenico said.

Every year, $70,000 of the $5.5 million Coca-Cola exclusivity agreement with the University is distributed to student initiatives and $30,000 to Queen’s library services. Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services and non-voting chair of the committee responsible for the allocation of the CBEF said the decision to grant money to QUAKC had nothing to do with the group’s mandate.

“The fact that this was anti-Coke in the end was not material,” he said, adding that Coca-Cola has no jurisdiction over who gets benefits from the grant. “Its not like its Coke’s money anymore—it’s our money.”

De Domenico said QUAKC originally thought of applying for the grant as a joke.

“Once we realized Coke wasn’t making the decisions, it became more serious,” he said. QUAKC applied for the grant in mid-October.

Alex Caldararu, a master’s student in sociology and QUAKC member, said the group decided to take advantage of this grant to fund their anti-Coke campaign.

“We decided that we wanted to try to get some rather high-profile events on campus to build on the momentum we had last year,” he said.

According to QUAKC’s website, the group is “dedicated to bringing accountability to the ever-increasing dominance of Coca-Cola Ltd. on the University’s campus.” Shannon Denny, a spokesperson for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, said the company takes pride in the products it provides, and that it has no response to the recent grant decision because it was not within the company’s jurisdiction.

“We have no involvement in that process at all,” she said. “We let the University make those decisions.”

De Domenico said one of QUAKC’s current problems is with the number of vending machines on campus. Currently, there are 150 machines located throughout campus. The contract with the University stipulates a minimum of 130 must be present.

“The idea of having four over there, four over there, four over there—it’s overkill,” he said.

The University’s contract with the bottling company was signed in 2000 and will be up for renewal in 2010.

The contract gives Coca-Cola exclusive right to the sale of cold drinks on campus in exchange for $5.5 million in grants to the University. The complete details of the contract were obtained by the Journal last year through the University’s Freedom Of Information Act.

Caldararu added that, short of terminating Coke’s exclusivity contract on Queen’s, using money from it against Coca-Cola is the next best thing.

“We think that’s the best way to actually open up the discussion—to use the money that’s been allocated for student groups to sort of bring this issue alive on campus,” he said. “This is an issue that affects everybody at the Queen’s community, from the principal all the way down to students and staff.”

De Domenico said QUAKC’s minimum goal is to pressure the University enough to ensure the contract is not renewed.

“[We’ve] studied it carefully and pointed out all the things that make it not worth it for this campus ... not even considering all the human rights issues, [but] even from an economic standpoint,” de Domenico said.

In their grant application, the group proposed to use the money from the CBEF to spread awareness about their issue and to help with QUAKC events. A condition of the grant requires them to spend the money by April, de Domenico said.

“Resources are always an issue,” he said. “We have a lot of material—pamphlets, booklets [and] buttons that cost a lot of money.” He added QUAKC also plans to host a speaker event on Feb. 16 in Dunning Hall.

Speakers will include a member of Sinaltrainal, a Colombian workers union that filed a lawsuit against Colombian bottling companies and Coca-Cola in 2001.

Coca-Cola was later dismissed from the lawsuit by a U.S. judge.

Caldararu said QUAKC is also trying to bring U.S.-based Ray Rogers, head of the Campaign against Killer Coke, to speak on campus again. Rogers last spoke on campus during the fall of 2004.

He added that QUAKC hopes a student referendum at a later date could result in stopping renewal of the contract.

“A student referendum is something that we’re going to be looking for in the future,” he said. “One of the biggest questions the group has asked is, if Coke is gone, then what?”

De Domenico said if the contract with the University is ever broken, QUAKC plans to create an economically feasible student-run drink distribution system on campus.

Caldararu said QUAKC is looking at the possibility of bringing in alternative beverages from a different source.

“There are a bunch of local producers, juice makers ... that don’t have the ability to sell their wares on campus because of the exclusive contract that Queen’s has with Coke,” he said. “Just because Coca-Cola is the biggest corporation that sells these drinks, doesn’t mean it’s the only one.”

—With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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