Coca-Cola Contracts Fizzle at University of Michigan
ANN ARBOR, Michigan, January 3, 2006 - In a victory for student
environmental and human rights activists, the University of Michigan
has suspended its business relationship with the Coca-Cola company
because of its practices in India and Colombia.
The decision, effective January 1, suspends 13 contracts with Coca-Cola
worth $1.4 million annually because the company has not agreed to
protocols for a third-party review of labor practices in Colombia
and has not developed protocols for reviewing environmental concerns
In response to student concerns, the university convened a Dispute
Review Board (DRB), an advisory body composed of students, faculty
and administrators to look into the issues in India and Colombia.
After deliberating for 10 months, the DRB recommended in June 2005
that the Coca-Cola company be placed on probation. The DRB laid out
a series of benchmarks that the company would have to meet to show
that it was acting in good faith to solve the problems in India and
Colombia, including agreeing to an independent, third-party investigation
into issues in those countries.
According to deadlines established by the university, the company
and the university were supposed to select an independent auditor
together and reach an agreement on review protocols by December 31,
2005. In a letter dated December 16, Coke said it would miss that
deadline because of legal complications.
The university's total yearly expenditure on Coke products is $1.4
The university says that if the situation is resolved, it will resume
purchasing of Coke products. For the present, campus vending machines
that contain Coke products will either be stocked with alternate products
or remain empty.
The Coalition to Cut the Contract with Coca-Cola, a group of student
organizations that is pressuring Coca-Cola to change its ways, congratulated
the university on its decision in a statement.
The statement condemns what it calls the company's efforts to treat
the alleged environmental and human rights violations "as public relations
issues, instead of taking the necessary steps to become a socially
The coalition said it is concerned that the university still maintains
Coke is acting in "good faith."
Clara Hardie, a student leader at the university, said, "The campaign
to hold Coca-Cola accountable is far from over, and we will continue
to fight to ensure that the University of Michigan administration
is moving in the right direction, and putting Coca-Cola on notice
that this suspension can lead to expulsion if they fail to act in
Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaign
organization that worked with the student organizations to make the
case against Coca-Cola, is pleased with the suspension.
"We welcome the move by the University of Michigan to cease doing
business with a company that engages in flagrant human rights and
environmental violations, and this will send a strong message to the
Coca-Cola company that it must clean up its act," said Srivastava
from the India Resource Center's office in San Francisco.
Coca-Cola is the target of numerous community-led protest actions
in India. Villagers accusing the company of creating severe water
shortages and pollution.
One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in the town of
Plachimada, Kerala state, has been shuttered since March 2004 because
the local community says the beverage production has created severe
water shortages and pollution in the area.
In November, the Kerala state government declared the area's water
resources to be "over-exploited." The state government notified the
area under the Kerala Groundwater Control and Regulation Act to regulate
the use of groundwater due to scarcity.
The company must register its wells and borewells with the newly formed
Ground Water Regulatory Authority, which will decide whether the company
can use the groundwater for beverage production.
There are frequent demonstrations against the company's operations
across India. The most recent was in Kala Dera, Rajasthan in north
India where over 1,500 people marched on December 12 demanding the
closure of the Coca-Cola factory.
Community leaders have vowed to increase the pressure on the company.
"We will not rest until we have shut down the bottling plant," said
Sawai Singh in Rajasthan.
More protests in India are planned for January and February.
In Colombia, the company is accused of murders, kidnappings and torture
of union leaders and organizers with the National Union of Food Industry
Workers, says Javier Correa, president of Sinaltrainal, the union's
name in Spanish.
In July 2001, the United Steelworkers of America and the International
Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sinaltrainal, several
of its members and the estate of Isidro Gil, one of its murdered officers.
The lawsuit alleges the workers have been murdered and tortured by
paramilitary death squads brought in by local Coca-Cola bottling plant
managers to suppress the workers’ organizing efforts with violence.
Coca-Cola bottlers “contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary
security forces that utilize extreme violence and murdered, tortured,
unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders,” the
Ray Rogers, director of the New York City based Campaign to Stop Killer
Coke, says of the company's Colombia operations, "Coca-Cola continues
to rake in billions each year, yet the frightening conditions at the
Coke plants remain unchanged."
The lawsuit and campaign aim to force Coca-Cola to prevent further
bloodshed and to provide safe working conditions.
In April 2005, Coca-Cola released the report of an independent workplace
assessment conducted in Colombia for the company, saying the report
reveals "a workplace environment where labor and human rights are
respected and protected."
Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, an independent firm that conducts
social accountability and workplace environment, safety and health
audits for companies around the world, found no violations and uncovered
no allegations with respect to human rights abuses at any of the plants.
In the areas of environment and safety and health, "minor infractions
were noted at four of the plants." The infractions were brought to
the attention of plant management and the Coca-Cola Company, and all
are being addressed based on a corrective action plan, the company
Stuart Kyle, director of social compliance for the company, said the
report's findings are not surprising. "While outside claims of anti-union
activities have been levied against our company and our bottlers,
we have always believed that the people who work in our Colombian
bottling facilities do so in an environment free of intimidation,
harassment or discrimination based on union affiliation or activities."
The Coca-Cola system in Colombia currently has signed labor contracts
with all 12 of its unions.
Students in other colleges and universities in the United States,
Canada, and United Kingdom are campaigning to revoke Coca-Cola's contracts
until they meet the demands of the communities.
On December 8, 2005, New York University joined the list of universities
that have kicked Coca-Cola out. The NYU students who led the campaign
were part of the United Students Against Sweatshops effort to raise
awareness about human rights violations in Coca-Cola bottling plants
in Colombia and Turkey, among other places.
New York City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate who led a delegation
to Colombia, concluded, "It seems indisputable that Coke workers have
been systematically persecuted for their union activity."
In November 2005 the company issued a statement on a lawsuit filed
after demonstrators at the company's headquarters in Turkey were allegedly
subjected to violence by police.
"The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling partners comply with all applicable
labor and employment laws in the countries in which we do business,"
the company said. "We recognize international labor standards and
are committed to respecting the workplace human rights of our employees
and the parties with whom we do business. We respect our employees'
right to join or not join labor unions, and ensure that those rights
are exercised without fear of retaliation, repression or any other
form of discrimination."
But company statements do not satisfy the protesters. "We are putting
the Coca-Cola company on notice. It will continue to lose lucrative
contracts with more colleges and universities until it cleans up its
act in India," said Srivastava of the India Resource Center.
Coca-Cola products will not be completely eliminated from the University
of Michigan campus. Some third-party vendors such as chain restaurants
may continue to carry the products because of agreements with the
company that require them to stock the beverages.
Coca-Cola manufactures some 400 different products and distributes
them in 200 countries. The company says it is involved in an ongoing
global effort "to work with its bottling partners and suppliers to
assess and correct noncompliance with local law, identify and implement
best practices in the areas of labor, health, safety and environment
throughout the company's entire supply chain."
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