QUAKC hosts anti-Coke speakers

With walls covered with posters reading “Ice Cold Killer Coke Can’t Hide Its Crimes in Colombia,” about 40 students and community members gathered in a classroom in Dunning Hall last night to hear a presentation organized by Queen’s University Against Killer Coke (QUAKC). QUAKC partially funded the presentation with some of the $2,000 the group received from the University’s Cold Beverage Exclusivity Fund, as well as funding received from anti-Coke groups at McMaster University, Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.

The presentation featured four speakers who addressed issues including alleged murders at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, allegations of water theft and pollution in India, and exclusivity contracts at various universities.

Alfredo Parro, a union leader and worker at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Carpera, Colombia for 20 years, spoke about labour violence, struggles and murder in the Coca-Cola industry.

“I was left with no choice,” said Parro, who spoke through a translator. “I had to resign from my job to save my life. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be speaking here tonight.” Gwen May, Law ’07, said Parro’s story left her in shock.

“It was really incredible that [Parro] could come,” she said. “It’s something well-worth promoting and we need to keep talking about the issues of Coke to raise awareness around campus.”

Karl Flecker, a speaker from the Polaris Institute, a Canadian organization that focuses on social justice, expressed concerns about the bottled water industry, of which some brands are produced by Coca-Cola.

“At one point in India, [a bottle of] Coca-Cola contained pesticides that exceeded the national limits by 30 times,” he said.

Flecker alleged that “when farmers found out, they began to use [Coca-Cola] on their crops because it was cheaper than pesticide.” Jared Giesbresht, Law ’08, said statements made by Flecker about campus exclusivity deals put perspective on the matter.

“It really makes us realize how we’re involved in financing a company like Coca-Cola,” he said. “It helps us make connections between power and money.”

Beth Ross, ArtSci ’06 and member of QUAKC, said her desire for increased awareness about Coca-Cola was achieved through the presentation.

“Tonight, these speakers helped reveal why an organization like QUAKC exists,” she said. “Alfredo gave us first-hand knowledge of what we’re fighting for, and I’m delighted that we touched on so many topics.” QUAKC is fighting to end the University’s 10-year exclusivity contract with the bottling company.

“Contracts are a disguised fashion of subordination,” Parro said. “They are trying to break basic freedom and liberty of choice.”

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 competitors from almost any presence on campus.

Ross said QUAKC, along with similar groups at other universities, hopes to put an end to the contract, but realizes it is a long-term goal.

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