students and coca-cola August 18, 2006Posted by Brad Richert in business.
It has become the norm for student unions across North America to take action against Coca-cola on ethical grounds. Bard, Carleton, NY Law School, DuPage, Guelph, Hampshire, Hofstra, Lake Forest, Macalester, NYU, Oberlin, Rutgers, Salem State, Swarthmore, Union Theological, Michigan, and Santa Clara college and universities have all terminated major contracts with Coca-Cola because of human rights abuses in Columbia alone. In Canada, only the University of British Columbia has recently rejected student demands and actually signed a new exclusively deal with the company that was rated one of the ten worst companies in the world in 2004. UBC says it is only being realistic since it needs the funds. This is echoed by other Canadian universities that have been and are currently in exclusivity deals with the cola giant. Carleton University and the University of Ottawa both admit their dependence on the money that is provided by Coke products. In Britain, however, Sussex University became the
The hope of these student boycotts is not so much to hurt the pocketbooks of the company as it is to create awareness about Coke’s crimes overseas. The problem, as prviously mentioned, is that many universities, especially publicly-funded ones, are already suffering financially. Education costs, like everything else, are rising while government funding is stagnant. This causes universities and student unions to look for funding elsewhere. As students are usually the first to boycott (cigarettes, advertising, products from unethical corporations), they also lose a major source of funding. So while the government gives corporate tax breaks to corporations that have no problem with corporate advertising (obviously), they let the universities continue to suffer under their own social consciousness.
Honestly, I do not care much about the health issues with Coke since for the most part, other than Diet Coke, their products unhealthy nature is not exactly hidden. People are in full knowledge of what they are drinking and a person’s obesity caused by unhealthy eating is no one’s fault but their own. The problem are their imposed crimes in developing countries such as Columbia and India.
In July of 2001 the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund sued Coca-Cola and others on behalf of workers at bottling plants because of the use of paramilitary force. However, in 2003 a judge excluded Coke from the list of plaintiffs because Coke did not have “explicit control” over the paramilitary. Later that summer the SINALTRAINAL trade union, representing the majority of Coke’s workers in Columbia, called for an international boycott of Coke. This led to a domino effect in universites around the world (notable starting with Ireland) as student unions either did not re-sign Coke exclusivity deals or banned the sales of Coke products altogether. Early in 2004 the New York City Fact-Finding Delegation on Coca-Cola in Columbia accused Coke of 179 human rights violations. This included nine murders. Most of these violations are congruent with the major concern that a paramilitary is being used, which the NYC-FFDG alleges Coke actually knows about. Coke, of course, denied the allegations saying that they have no control over the bottling plant. It is interesting to note that Coke actually bought that bottling plant later that year.
During this time, in 2002, two Coca-Cola shareholders brought forward a resolution to a shareholders’ meeting after become concerned with Coke’s track record in Columbia, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, the Phillipines, and the United States. The shareholder’s rejected the resolution for clear standards for its suppliers, bottlers, and vendors.
Also in 2003, the Centre for Science and Environment in India found both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola using pesticides, including DDT, in their soft drinks. Coke’s opposition to the claims was to discredit the reliability of the tests. Earlier this year, the Indian state of Kerala banned the sale and production of Coke because of high levels of pesticides.
Sources and more info:
- On Colleges and Universities against Coke
- On UBC Coke deal (2005) [pdf]
- On the Ten Worst Companies of 2004
- On Sussex University’s ban on Coke
- On 2001 Coke lawsuit
- On Criticisms of Coca-Cola
- On more Criticisms of Coca-Cola
P.S. My own University of Alberta Student Union recently rejected a proposal to prohibit entering into another single-source agreement such as the current one with Coca-Cola following a similar motion accepted by McMaster University. The SU ultimately rejected the proposal based on financial reasons, but also pointed out that continuing with Coca-Cola would be problematic because of the political circumstances (re: Coke’s refusal for an independent investigation into their actions in Columbia).