Viewpoint: Coke on Trial
By Jory Hearst, Kristin Purdy, Ilan Brandvain, Peter Woiwode and Sam Woll
The Michigan Daily
April 19, 2005

The campaign to purge this campus of unethical corporations rolls on. Students are closer than ever to pushing our University to cut our contract with Coca-Cola.

Because recent progress of the campaign has been quiet, many people have come up to members of the Coke Coalition asking if the $1.3 million contract the University has with Coca-Cola has been cut. The answer is a resounding “NO! — not yet.”

On April 25, the University will hold a hearing to determine if Coca-Cola is too ethically corrupt to do business with. This will be the first significant test of the strength of this university’s Code of Conduct. This is our opportunity to show the world that to do business with this prestigious, moral institution, you must follow minimum humane standards.

The accusations against Coke are clear: it has been accused of participating in particularly egregious human rights violations in Colombia; it’s been accused of being complicit in the murder of nine union leaders and workers as well as over 170 reported cases of kidnapping, violence against union-members’ families, death-threats and torture, which were committed by paramilitary forces in Colombia at Coca-Cola bottling plants. In India, Coke’s bottling plants have been accused of contributing to severe water shortages, water pollution, and hazardous disposal of solid waste. Rulings by the Indian court system have temporarily shut Coke plants down due to the growing anger at Coca-Cola by local communities. We’ve heard this all before.

The Coke Coalition now consists of 20 student organizations. We welcome our new members, including the Graduate Employees Organization, the Native American Student Association and the United Asian American Organizations, and now proudly represent over 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students. We are escalating pressure as Coca-Cola goes on trial on April 25. We demand that our Code of Contact be upheld; we demand that all nine University-Coca Cola contracts be cut; we demand the decision is made before we leave campus.

Coke’s denials are weak. It cites statements by SINALTRAINBEC, its imposed union with a membership of 20. It refuses to allow independent investigations, but laud those done by the for-profit Cal Safety Compliance Corporation. Lori Billingsley, issues director and media relations chair for Coke, has just resigned for “personal reasons.” In India, Colombia and across the world, the demonstrations continue.

The hearing is set for April 25, at 3:30 p.m. in the Anderson Room of the Union. It is open to the public, and we encourage students who would like their University to live up to its moral and ethical obligations to its students, employees and contract partners to turn out in force. The Coke Coalition will be bringing speakers who have dealt directly with Coca-Cola’s human and environmental rights violations, and Coca-Cola will be sending representatives as well. We look forward to this opportunity to once again prove why Coke is out of line with our Code of Conduct. Now we just call for a decision to be made.

Hearst is an RC sophomore, Purdy is an LSA sophomore, Brandvain is an LSA sophomore, Woiwode is an LSA senior and Woll is a RC senior. All are members of the Coke Coalition.

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