Swarthmore Student Council Supports Coca-Cola Campaign
Martha Marrazza
The Phoenix
October 6, 2005

Student Council members recently passed a resolution supporting the student-run Kick Coke campaign. The resolution backs the group’s efforts to decrease the consumption of Coca-Cola on campus, and it also stipulates that President Al Bloom will write to Coca-Cola executives expressing Swarthmore’s disapproval of reported human rights violations by the corporation.

The resolution represents a victory for the campaign, whose members have been trying to alert Swarthmore students to the charges of human rights abuses levied against Coke factories in India and Colombia. While the Kick Coke campaign has existed at the international level for some time, Swarthmore students have begun to rally behind the cause over the past year.

Sarah Roberts ’08 was moved to work on Swarthmore’s Kick Coke campaign after learning about some of the company’s policies. “I went to a conference in Austin, Texas, and some union leaders from Colombia spoke at it. They talked about the murders and kidnappings that were occurring, as well as the intimidation present at Coke factories,” Roberts said. “There were also some water rights issues in India. I think it’s important to use our money for social justice, not to do bad things in the world.”

Ruth Schultz ’09’s disgust with Coca-Cola executives for alleged human rights violations has motivated her to participate in the campaign. “In Colombia, over the past 13 years or so, there have been nine murders of labor leaders, and there have also been various threats against them. One person was even killed in a Coke plant in broad daylight,” she said. “It’s expected that Coke is connected with this, since they most likely contract paramilitary groups to quell labor unions. If a worker gets killed in their factory, that’s horrible, if they were planning it or if they weren’t.”

Students involved in the Kick Coke campaign have attempted to spread their message through events like Coke-Free Fridays. “We hope to establish a greater presence on campus through Coke-Free Fridays,” Roberts said. “It’s a good way to make people think about the issue.”

Members of the Kick Coke campaign ultimately want to terminate Swarthmore’s contract with Coca-Cola, but they determined that securing a student council resolution first would bring about immediate change. “On campus, we’re focusing on getting the administration to send a letter to Coke warning that they will cut their contract because of what we have learned about their human rights abuses,” Roberts said. “Last week the Student Council passed a resolution and now they will work with the administration to send a letter. [A resolution] just shows that this is something students are thinking about on campus. If the school says they’ll cut their contract with Coke, that makes a big difference.”

Roberts hopes Coke will reconsider its policies if colleges threaten to sever contracts with the company. “Our end goal is sending a letter of concern to Coke, saying that we won’t renew our contract when it expires,” she said. “It’s not effective to have a big campaign saying that we’re not going to drink soda or other drinks made by bad companies. They only way to make a real change is to target one company and go with it.”

The newly-passed student council resolution appeals to President Al Bloom to write a letter to Coke communicating Swarthmore’s concerns about company policy. Stuart Hain, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Services, said the president’s office will send an admonishing letter to Coke and monitor investigations that the company promised to conduct in response to the charges of human rights violations.

Hain worked with students from the Kick Coke campaign to discuss the future of the soda as a major vendor at Swarthmore. “We had a meeting, and I’ve taken the issues presented to members of the president’s staff to talk about it. The college has done a couple of things. We went to a Coke stockholders meeting and asked for an investigation in response to the charges,” Hain said.

Kick Coke members have chosen to target Coke, rather than other large soda vendors, in hopes that other corporations will learn from the example of the public backlash against Coke’s policies. “The reason we don’t go after Pepsi is not because they have a shimmering record, it’s just that they’re not guilty to the extent of Coke,” Herschel Pecker ’06 said. “You go after the biggest company. In the vein of the people who boycotted Nike, you pick one company to go after and you hope the rest will fall in line.”

Nick Villagra ’09 doubts the means of the Kick Coke campaign. “I know the general aim of the campaign, which is to literally kick Coke, but I think it’s more a matter of the machinery behind the corporation than the substance itself,” he said. “If people really want to drink Coke, I don’t see how the campaign can fight that. It’s hard to convert people to dislike a certain type of food.”

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