Students want Coke off campus

Motion at AGM calls for University to cut ties with Coca-Cola over labour practice concerns

Anti-Coca-Cola organizers Andrea Jones
Image by: Tyler Ball
Anti-Coca-Cola organizers Andrea Jones

Queen’s students are questioning the Coke side of life after passing a motion at the AMS Annual General Meeting on Monday to publically oppose the University’s future involvement with Coca-Cola after its cold beverage exclusivity contract ends, next year.

836 students were registered to vote at the meeting.

The motion, passed by an overwhelming majority of undergraduates on Monday night, was meant to bring awareness to allegations of the Coca-Cola Company’s involvement in the assassination and torture of trade union leaders and those associated with SINALTRAINAL union, which represents Coca-Cola workers in Colombia, James Douglas said.

Douglas, ArtSci ’08, is one of the co-organizers of the campaign against Coca-Cola.

He said the group, which follows in the tradition of its predecessor Queen’s University Against Killer Coke, is nameless in order to be inclusive.

“We don’t have a name for it. We’re just standing up and beside SINALTRAINAL union. Other campuses have named their campaigns in different ways,” he said. “One reason we chose to do this is that we just want to make it clear that we’re a bunch of students. We don’t want to create the image that we are a bunch of special people, because we’re not.”

The motion calls for the University to end its financial involvement with the Coca-Cola Company until the “company’s labour practices in Colombia significantly improve.” The motion defines improvement as a public declaration from SINALTRAINAL that Coca-Cola is respecting its members.

Douglas said he feels if Queen’s continues its association with Coca-Cola, it could be a strain on the University’s overall image.

“We know that alumni giving is very sensitive to the University’s image. If alumni across the country know that Queen’s doesn’t care much about human rights, that’s going to damage our image from a purely financial point of view. I like to think that alumni care about human rights, and that’s going to affect them. Just from a straight up money point of view, I don’t think it’s a good idea to do business with Coca-Cola.”

Outgoing EngSoc vice-president (student development) Andy Nishimura, Sci ’10, was one of the few students to raise concerns regarding the motion.

In an e-mail to the Journal, Nishimura said his concerns were to raise awareness about the financial ramifications of not re-signing with Coca-Cola.

“My intention was to notify members of the consequences of not resigning with coke and expecting other funding sources to easily make up the difference,” he said. “Knowing how many groups depends on such funding, and coupled with the tough economic times we are facing, I don’t think it would be in the best interest of the institution to change the use of that funding.”

Residence and Hospitality Services Director Bruce Griffiths said the University’s current $5.8 million, 10-year exclusivity contract with Coca-Cola will not expire in August 2010 as originally planned.

“We have a two-year extension. Really what happens is that the amount of money we received—which was guaranteed was tied to a certain volume. In order to earn that guarantee we had to earn that certain volume.”

Griffiths said it was Queen’s failure to reach its sales quota which has led to the forced extension of the University’s exclusive contract with Coca-Cola.

“We were very good in over the counter, which is retail style and for fountain because we have a big dining program. We don’t really have a strong vending culture on this campus,” he said. “Everybody else was about the same as us. I know that Guelph didn’t and I know that UBC also didn’t reach its targets.”

In addition to giving Coca-Cola a monopoly on cold beverage on campus, the contract also grants Coca-Cola status as an “official sponsor/supplier” of Queen’s athletics.

Griffiths said if the University chose to not resign that Coca-Cola, it would not lose crucial funding.

“Come 2012, it would end.

None of the money was operationalized. Nobody’s counting on that as a revenue stream. There’s the annual fund, which would simply stop. The other money was lumped summed to the Queen’s Centre, which was the decision that our committee made.”

Griffiths said 80 per cent of the Coca-Cola funding will be going towards the construction of the Queen’s Centre. The yearly $100,000 Cold Beverage Exclusivity Fund which goes towards campus organizations for Queen’s related projects makes up the remaining 20 per cent.

Griffiths said the exclusivity fund would be under review if the University was to resign with Coca-Cola.

“It’s something that we could consider. We could decide on something else in terms of value for the students,” he said. “We’re not obligated to do it under the contract. It’s just a decision the University makes.”

This year’s recipients of the funding included CFRC, Kaleidoscope, QTV, Queen’s Libraries and The Tearoom.

Griffiths said the University has to consider many different factors when deciding how to proceed with its Coca-Cola contract.

“So we’re also looking at strong messaging from the university about revenue generation, and that we need to explore all opportunities. Whether we take everything we explore is another matter. We also look to the guidelines to responsible investing as another sort of measure because there is no measure of who Queen’s will or won’t do business with,” he said. “This is in terms of standards of behaviours, not for advancement or companies we choose to do business with. So, we’re kind of in a vacuum. If we had a stance, we could say, ‘okay, does this company meet this standards or not?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ you do business with them and if they don’t than you don’t. I’m afraid it’s not that simple.”

Griffiths said there is no timeline for University to make its ultimate decision on the fate of its financial ties with Coca-Cola.

“I do know that some schools who were in similar situations didn’t want to have the two years; they renegotiated a five year deal, so that kept a revenue stream going,” he said. “So, that’s something that we might consider. It’s 2009 and we’re a little over a year away, so it’s time for us to decide what we want to do.”

Griffiths said the food review committee—comprisedof representatives from the AMS, the SGPS, Student Affairs and Food Services— still has to discuss viable alternatives to Coca-Cola.

“So, we could say ‘okay we’re going out to bid again with Coke and Pepsi,’ or just go back to the way it was before where we stock a variety of beverages based on whatever the market is.”

Griffiths said the ultimate decision will be made by the principal and vice-principals.

“It would end up in a senior level, I think. Just like any of the food contracts, when we [the review committee], eventually make our recommendation, it will go to that group.”

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