University of Michigan Deliberating on Coca-Cola's Response
The efforts of a group of students to bring the Coca-Cola Company’s
alleged human rights abuses to light have garnered the attention of
the international media.
The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have both published stories
about the worldwide movement against the soft drink giant; The Journal
specifically discussed the role of student activists at the University.
Even The Hindustan Times has been following the response of the University
But despite making headlines around the world, the deadline for Coca-Cola
to comply with University demands passed last Friday without a decision
from administrators as to whether it would sever ties with the company.
In response to pressure from students, the University told Coca-Cola
last semester that it had to agree to a third-party audit of its practices.
This demand came after an investigation into the labor practices of
But even though the deadline for Coca-Cola to agree to a third-party
audit of its labor practices passed last Friday, the University has
still not decided whether Coke has met the deadline and doesn’t plan
on releasing its decision until the end of the week at the earliest.
A letter from Coke that arrived Friday does not explicitly state that
the company agrees to a third-party audit.
“We’re discussing right now whether the actions (that Coca-Cola has
taken) to date and the letter fully support cooperating with the investigation,”
said Peggy Norgren, the University’s associate vice president for
finance. Norgren, along with University Chief Financial Officer Timothy
Slottow, will determine if Coke is compliant
Coke’s letter says it has committed several working teams it established
during the summer to assess the feasibility of conducting a third-party
assessment of labor conditions in Colombia and India.
“As we understand it, one (team) is reviewing issues such as security,
scope and assessors for a potential Colombia evaluation, another is
reviewing potential approaches to evaluating environmental performance
in India and a third is addressing funding issues,” Edward Potter,
director of Global Labor Relations for Coca-Cola, wrote in the letter
addressed to Slottow.
Members of the Coke Campaign Coalition, the group of students pushing
the University to take action against Coca-Cola, said there was a
possible loophole that may lead the University to continue relations
with the company, despite its refusal to conduct a third-party audit.
In a letter to Frank Stafford, chair of the University’s Dispute Review
Board, Slottow said he would take into account the progress to date
and sense of good faith action taken by Coca-Cola prior to our acting
prematurely to sever the contract on a (specific date) as recommended
in the report.”
RC senior Clara Hardie, a member of the campaign, said the sentence
undermines the rest of the letter, in which Slottow writes, “We all
understand that there will be times when it is best to sever the (University-vendor)
relationship and move on.”
Ashley Graham, a student member of the DRB, wrote an e-mail to Norgren
and Slottow about her disappointment with Coca-Cola’s response.
“The recommendation was clear: Coke was to explicitly agree to a third
party investigation by September 30th. … The September 30th deadline
was set; that deadline was missed — now something must be done,” Graham
“All we’re asking the University to do is adhere to its own standards,”
LSA junior Ben Grimshaw said.
Members of the coalition say they have not been happy with the approach
the University has taken in enforcing the Vendor Code of Conduct.
“This is the first time the University is evaluating a complaint about
the Code of Conduct after an investigation from the (Dispute Review
Board). This decision process will set the standard for all future
complaints brought through the DRB, and right now it seems like the
University is setting it up to fail,” LSA sophomore Nafisah Ula said.
“We’ve brought this (complaint) to the attention of the University.
They have found credible evidence to support these allegations. For
them not to act with more vigilance makes it seem like they don’t
care,” Grimshaw said.
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