Coca-Cola Placed on Probation By University of Michigan

Major Victory by Students Demands Justice for Communities in Colombia and India

For Immediate Release
June 20, 2005

Clara Hardie, Student Coalition to Cut the Coca-Cola Contract +1 906 869 4449 (US)
Saamir Rahman , Student Coalition to Cut the Coca-Cola Contract +1 419 344 4850 (US)
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center +44 7731 865 591 (UK) +1 415 336 7584 (US)

London: The University of Michigan is placing the Coca-Cola company on probation until August 2006 for the company's egregious actions in Colombia and India.

The major setback for the Coca-Cola company comes after a 10 month investigation into Coca-Cola's crimes in India and Colombia by the Dispute Review Board (DRB), an advisory body set up by the University of Michigan. The DRB looked specifically into the issue of whether the Coca-Cola company violated the University of Michigan's Vendor Code of Conduct through its actions in India and Colombia.

The DRB "found evidence that Coca-Cola may have violated standards of the University's Vendor Code of Conduct" on the issues of high pesticide levels in soft drinks in India and labor practices in Colombia.

In a stern notice to the Coca-Cola company, the company must agree in writing by September 30, 2005 to a third party, independent investigation into the pesticide issues in India and labor issues in Colombia, with the audit to be completed by March 31, 2006. Coca-Cola is then "expected to put a corrective action plan in place by May 31, 2006."

The DRB further states that in the event that deadlines are not met and satisfactory progress is not made, "the University business relationship with Coca-Cola shall be suspended and Coca-Cola products shall not be offered at the University, which includes but is not limited to vending, food service operations, athletic events and University-catered events."

The Coca-Cola company has been selling products in India with high levels of pesticides, including DDT, sometimes as high as 30 times those allowed by the US and EU standards. On May 19, 2005, a shipment of Coca-Cola products made in India and shipped to the US were barred from entering the US by the US Food and Drug Administration, on the grounds that they were "unsafe" and "not conforming to US laws."

In Colombia, Coca-Cola's main Latin American bottler, Panamco, is charged with hiring right wing paramilitaries to kill and intimidate trade union leaders. Since 1989, eight trade union leaders from Coca-Cola bottling plants have been murdered by paramilitary forces, and a lawsuit, filed by the United Steel Workers of America in the US, charges that the paramilitary worked with the blessing of, or in collaboration with, company management.

The University of Michigan action is the result of a formidable student-led campaign by the Student Coalition to Cut the Coca-Cola Contract, a coalition of over 20 groups representing 5,000 students at the university.

"We are content with the Dispute Review Board recommendation in its confirmation of several allegations against the Coca-Cola company. The students remain committed to ensuring that the University carry out a fully independent investigation of Coca-Cola as outlined in the recommendations. Anything less than a truly independent investigation will be deemed illegitimate," the coalition said in a statement.

In addition to the issue of pesticides in India and labor issues in Colombia, the DRB also looked into the issues of Coca-Cola depleting groundwater and disposing of its toxic waste as fertilizer to farmers around its plants in India. The DRB concluded that "it could not determine whether Coca-Cola is in compliance with the Vendor Code of Conduct," on the issues of groundwater depletion and disposal of solid waste, and it recommended that "additional assessment is needed."

Additionally, the University has renewed its contract with the Coca-Cola company on a conditional basis for three months only, pending meaningful response from the company.

The Coca-Cola company, in a hastily organized 'briefing' for university administrators in the US on May 6, 2005, has proposed a commission that will include university officials and Coca-Cola company officials, to organize an "independent" assessment of the issues in Colombia and India. No groups from India and Colombia have either been informed, consulted or invited.

The India Resource Center and its allies have rejected the commission idea being floated by the Coca-Cola company, arguing that including Coca-Cola while excluding groups from India and Colombia in the commission make the outcome of any investigation extremely biased, and that there can be no "independence" about the matter.

"We welcome the decision by the University of Michigan which has placed Coca-Cola on probation for its crimes in India and Colombia," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center. "We look forward to working with concerned groups to ensure that the Coca-Cola company meets the criteria laid out by the University of Michigan," continued Srivastava.

The India Resource Center (IRC) worked closely with the University of Michigan Student Coalition to Cut the Coca-Cola Contract in representing the issues in India. The IRC also participated in two public hearings at the University of Michigan, at which representatives from the Colombian trade union, Sinaltrainal, the United Steel Workers of America and the United Students Against Sweatshops were also present.

The University of Michigan actions come soon after Rutgers University in New Jersey decided not to renew Coca-Cola's exclusive beverage contract, effective June 1, 2005. The student led campaign in the United States and the United Kingdom have grown significantly in strength in the last year, and active campaigns to ban Coca-Cola from campuses exist in at least 30 colleges and universities.

"The students at Michigan have secured a significant victory for the people of India and Colombia. Their actions have paved the way for other colleges and universities to join the growing number of campuses applying pressure on the Coca-Cola company," said Amit Srivastava.

The University of Michigan statement is at http://www.umich.edu/news/?Releases/2005/Jun05/r061705

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org


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