Queen’s must end its contract with Coca-Cola

The University’s commitment to the climate crisis and EDII must be reflected in its investments

Jessica hopes AMS opposition to the agreement will deter the University from partnering with the company.
Credit: 
Supplied by Jessica Wile

On Sept. 21, the AMS Assembly officially motioned to “publicly oppose the Cold Beverage & Vending Supply Agreement that Queen’s University has with Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada Company.”

In 2012, Queen’s signed a ten-year agreement with Coca-Cola stating that the University would exclusively sell Coca-Cola products. With the contract due to expire in 2022, the Commission of Environmental Sustainability and the Social Issues Commission of the AMS has decided to advocate against Queen’s re-signing.

Many specifics of this contract are confidential. Perhaps this is to save face, as when it comes to prioritizing ethics and sustainability over financial gain, Queen’s University does not have the greatest track record.

Maybe this is just the nature of living in a capitalist society, but we can’t just shrug this off.

There are many reasons to refrain from signing a second agreement.                       

The contract, signed by both Coca-Cola and Queen’s University, enforces the exclusivity of Coca-Cola’s Cold Beverage products. In other words, the University is not permitted to sell products made by companies that have competing products with Coca-Cola. 

Certain retail locations on campus must abide by this exclusivity, apart from three per cent of sales, which must be from products that don’t compete with Coca-Cola products.

One of the major downfalls of exclusivity within a large corporation such as Queen’s is that it prevents the institution from supporting the local economy. While Kingston is home to several local businesses that source their products in Canada, none of these products can be sold at Queen’s due to the contract.

The Coca-Cola contract limits this possibility for student-run services, such as Common Ground Coffee House or the Queen’s Pub, that wish to increase the amount of product from local suppliers.

Despite Coca-Cola’s sustainability commitment where they claim to “create a more sustainable and better-shared future” and make a difference in people's lives, communities and the planet by “doing business the right way,”the company itself contributes greatlyto the climate crisis.

For a company that claims to have sustainability as a core value in its production chain, Coca-Cola is one of the most damaging plastic producers on the planet. Most prominently, in December 2020, Coca-Cola was named the world’s worst plastic polluter for a third consecutive year, producing an annual sum of 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste. This metric is equivalent to roughly 8 billion plastic bottles and is greatly contributing to the rapidly changing climate.

Coca-Cola’s labour practices are also under fire due to several allegations concerning the company’s human rights violations against its workers.

Coca-Cola’s refusal to recognize union groups is a common theme in the media.

In an attempt to abolish the workplace union SYTBRACOUR in Haiti, the company conducted various dismissals of its union leaders and workers. One mass dismissal occurred on Mar. 15, 2018, after discussions began about working hours that didn’t follow Haitian labour laws. The majority of those affected were SYTBRACOUR members.

Union leaders and workers have also suffered at the hands of Coca-Cola FEMSA, the Coca-Cola manufacturer in the Philippines. A termination of 606 permanent workers occurred in January 2018 due to a partnership with third-party delivery partners that subsequently violated rights and broke minimum wage laws. Workers at this manufacturing plant are also severely underpaid to extremes that range from five to 34 per cent less than legal minimum wages.

Lawsuits have also been filed against Coca-Cola for murder allegations of union leaders and Coca-Cola workers in Columbia. Isidro Gil, a Columbian union leader, was killed following his efforts to advocate for appropriate wages.

This isn’t the first time this contract has been opposed. Students have publicly attempted to sway the University on this contract since its signing.  

While the administration has previously been presented with this information, re-signing the contract would be counterproductive to the university’s commitment to “fostering environmental sustainability in all facets of its operations, teaching, research and student life.”

To hold the University accountable to this commitment, the AMS is publicly calling upon the Queen’s administration to refrain from resigning this contract in 2022.

The climate crisis has reached a point where small promises aren’t good enough, and the ethical implications of our agreement with Coca Cola runs counter to any commitment Queen’s can make on equity. If we want to see change, we need to hold our institutions accountable.

As a final note, I would like to leave you with the following quote from the Queen’s University Climate Action Plan of January 2016, where the university challenges itself “​​to take responsibility for not only being part of the problem, but being part of the solution through action, research, education, and innovation.”

If this contract is re-signed, this is nothing but an empty promise.

Jessica Wile is a fifth-year Environmental Biology student and the Commissioner of Environmental Sustainability at the AMS.

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