University Demands Answers from Coca-Cola

For Immediate Release
April 26, 2005

Kristin Purdy: +1 517-980-6374 purdykri(AT)umich.edu

Ann Arbor, Michigan, US: The Coca-Cola Company was put on the defensive yesterday under the intense scrutiny of students, professors, and administrators at the University of Michigan. An expansive six-month-long student campaign came to a head as 11 corporate representatives were forced to account for Coca-Cola's crimes in Colombia and India. In Colombia, Coke has been involved in the murders, threats, displacements, disappearances and attacks of union workers at its bottling plants. In India, the company has depleted the water supply, distributed toxic waste to farmers under the guise of fertilizer, and sold soft drinks containing excessively high levels of pesticides. Students are demanding that the University of Michigan cut its $1.3 million contract with the Coca-Cola Company. The campaign at the University is part of an international student movement in solidarity with workers in Colombia and farmers in India. Thirteen other universities have already cut their contracts with Coca-Cola.

The recently released report by Cal Safety, commissioned by Coca-Cola to evaluate accusations of human rights abuses at its bottling plants in Colombia, was largely discredited by students. "Cal Safety is not a credible monitor. It follows none of the internationally recognized monitoring standards and practices used by mainstream human rights and labor organizations. They are in fact entirely funded by corporations with reprehensible labor records, including Walmart and Nike," said Jory Hearst, a University of Michigan sophomore. Cal Safety is a social auditing firm whose egregious oversight in the El Monte slave sweatshop case launched the global anti-sweatshop movement in the mid-1990s. Despite its complete lack of credibility, Coca-Cola has refused to allow an investigation by any body other than Cal Safety, not even the University-supported Worker's Rights Consortium. Members of the Dispute Review Board expressed concern over Coca-Cola's unwillingness to compromise on a third party investigation. Coca-Cola representatives were mute in response to Andy Hoffmann, a member of University of Michigan's Dispute Review Board, when he questioned, "So it's Cal Safety or nothing?"

"On the India issue, if you are a leader in environmental standards, why do you choose to build and operate plants in areas prone to drought and water shortages?" continued Professor Hoffmann. Students pointed out that Coca-Cola's defense contained repeated distortions and outright lies. In particular, students noted that though Coca-Cola claimed to reform is behavior voluntarily, it was actually forced to stop the distribution of toxic waste as fertilizer, to cease the withdrawal of water from depleted aquifers in the state of Kerala, and to label high pesticide levels in its soft drinks by Indian court orders. As Adri Miller, a University freshman, pointed out, "If Coke has ever changed its business practices, it has been the result of pressure from Indian civil society or the courts, never voluntarily."

Nine representatives from Coca-Cola and two additional conference callers from Shanghai, China, faced the interrogation. The University of Michigan is one of the most prominent schools to launch a campaign against Coca-Cola. The University has been a leader in social justice among universities and was forced by students to adopt a forward-looking code of conduct for its vendors. Clearly, if the Dispute Review Board recommends cutting the contract upon its expiration in June, this will be a major setback for the Coca-Cola Company.


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