Hillel Votes to Ban all Coke Products at Michigan University
For the past year, Coca-Cola’s beverages have not been the only aspect
of the company under pressure — the soft-drink giant has fought allegations
of human rights violations in Colombia and India and is now preparing
to confront critics in court.
Pre-trial tension has built between Terry Collingsworth, an attorney
representing union workers from Colombia, and Ed Potter, director
of Global Labor Relations for Coca-Cola.
Collingsworth’s suit argues that Coca-Cola has been complicit in the
intimidation, murder and torture of union workers in Coca-Cola bottling
plants in Colombia.
Coca-Cola is also under fire at the University, where the campus chapter
of Hillel voted last week to ban all Coke products at Hillel-sponsored
events, saying Coke’s labor practices in India and Colombia are not
in line with Jewish values of labor rights and environmental justice.
“As a member of the (Coke Campaign) coalition and of the Jewish community,
I am excited that Hillel is taking a stand on this issue,” said RC
junior and Hillel member Jory Hearst. “I think it will serve as a
great influence in the Michigan community.”
Coke’s lawyer, Potter, requested that all plaintiffs sign an agreement
that would prevent them from using any evidence gathered from independent
investigations conducted by universities.
Collingsworth wrote in a letter to Potter dated Nov. 14 that his request,
combined with the company’s inadequate internal investigations of
the human rights violations, indicates that Coca-Cola either doesn’t
know what happened in Colombia or has been lying to consumers.
“If you know the facts will exonerate Coca-Cola, Ed, then let’s do
the investigation and agree that the final report and the supporting
evidence is admissible in court,” Collingsworth wrote. “In fact, let’s
agree to split the cost of publishing 10,000 copies and sending the
report to every university in the world.”
Student members of the Coke Campaign Coalition — a campus group pressing
the University to sever its contracts with Coca-Cola — supported Collingsworth’s
“It’s pretty obvious that if Coca-Cola wasn’t afraid that something
would be found, they wouldn’t try to take legal measures to obscure
the information,” said RC senior and coalition member Clara Hardie.
Potter vehemently rejected Collingsworth’s implications in a letter
dated Nov. 16.
“For someone I have known for more than a decade, and with whom I
have had most cordial dealings, I find your November 14, 2005 letter
to me to be an astonishingly misleading and self-serving letter,”
Potter wrote, “Your claim that we are attempting to ‘bury’ relevant
information under the inadmissibility agreement is completely false
and disingenuous,” he said.
Potter argued that Collingsworth should be able to build his case
without relying on the results of the universities’ investigation.
“If, as you claim you already have such facts and information, the
draft agreement provides that you will still be able to introduce
such evidence in the litigation,” he wrote. “Your response confirms
our conclusion that you do not have any such evidence.”
Collingsworth responded to Potter’s claims in a letter dated Nov.
21, writing, “Any reasonable interpretation of (your proposal) is
that it is designed to preclude us from using in court any new evidence
that is uncovered in the investigation. As you know, it would be an
ethical violation for me to agree to bury evidence that could assist
my clients in trial.”
The University’s Dispute Review Board — charged with investigating
whether the University’s investments comply with the University’s
Vendor Code of Conduct — decided in June that Coca-Cola must take
actions by specific deadlines to maintain its $1.3 million in contracts
with the University. Though it was unclear whether Coca-Cola met its
first deadline on Sept. 30, the date by which it had been required
to agree to an independent audit of its labor practices, after two
weeks of deliberation the University, decided not to take action against
The University’s position has been that as long as Coke is acting
in “good faith” in its efforts to address the University’s concerns
and meet the deadlines, it will not cut its contracts with the company.
Peggy Norgren, the University’s associate vice president for finance,
did not return four calls and an e-mail seeking comment.
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