Minnesota Students Push for U to Investigate Coca-Cola’s Business Practices
For many students at the University of Minnesota and other universities
around the world, it’s a Coke thing.
With allegations it has violated of human and environmental rights
abroad, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. has had to deal with lawsuits,
governments and, most recently, students.
The Minnesota Student Association’s call for an investigation into
Coca-Cola’s business practices abroad is the latest in a series of
such requests from universities and colleges, domestically and abroad.
New York University and the University of Michigan halted sales of
Coke products on their campuses.
In the case of the University of Michigan, Coca-Cola did not reach
an agreement for another third-party assessment into Coca-Cola’s allegations
of complicity in violence against and intimidation of union members
in Colombia, said Pablo Largacha, director of public affairs and communications
“We have reached an impasse on the (practicality) for an additional
assessment for operations in Colombia,” he said.
Any additional assessment could interfere with a pending lawsuit filed
against Coca-Cola in Miami, he said.
While other universities have pushed first for investigations into
Colombia operations, all eyes, at least at the University, are on
Coca-Cola operations in India.
During its last meeting, Minnesota Student Association approved a
resolution urging University administration to inquire into Coca-Cola’s
business practices in India.
Amit Srivastava, director of the India Resource Center, said Coca-Cola’s
practices in India are something students should consider before they
Universities, Srivastava said, “have no business doing business with
a company that engages in unethical practices around the world.”
The India Resource Center works with communities in India being “impacted”
by Coca-Cola’s practices, he said.
Coca-Cola’s practices are unethical, Srivastava said, because they
have caused water scarcity in areas in India, polluted water and soil,
distributed hazardous bio-solids to farmers for use as fertilizer,
and that Coca-Cola product quality in India would not meet standards
of the United States or the European Union.
In 2003, the BBC reported that Coca-Cola distributed hazardous materials
from its factory in Kerala, India, to farmers. Coca-Cola India’s Web
site disputed the hazardous nature of the product, which the company
The Web site also said Coca-Cola product quality meets the “highest
Largacha said Coca-Cola is sharing facts with interested parties and
is making sure people know “there is one set of environmental and
one set of ethical standards for (Coca-Cola’s) global business.”
At the University
Since MSA’s resolution passed in December, members have been working
to create a public forum where the issue can be discussed.
“We feel that holding a public forum to talk about these issues is
one way of investigating valid concerns,” said MSA Vice President
He said the University should not do business with unethical corporations.
“We don’t want to do business with companies that have a proven, demonstrable
record of rights violations,” he said. “I don’t think as a public
university and a democratic place we should be doing business like
In the case of Coca-Cola, he said that if some violation did exist,
the University could put pressure on the corporation.
However, there are companies doing business with the University that
have questionable ethics, he said.
“For the sake of consistency, there needs to be something set up at
the University to ensure that the companies we do business with do
have ethical business practices,” he said.
However, Schwensohn said, he doesn’t want to draw conclusions until
after the public forum, which could be in March.
Jerry Rinehart, associate vice provost for Student Affairs, said the
president’s office has reviewed the resolution and is preparing a
response to it.
“In particular, we are taking seriously the request to look into the
questions that have been raised about Coca-Cola,” he said.
Rinehart said he was pleased to see the student association “take
the lead” in helping bring these issues to campus and offering a forum
where the issue can be debated.
He said that if the allegations were proved, it likely would be a
factor in the University’s renegotiation of its contract with Coca-Cola,
but that conclusions shouldn’t be drawn too quickly.
In addition to MSA’s call for an investigation into Coca-Cola’s practices
abroad, the issue is also being tackled in University Senate, where
Student Sen. Kris Houlton is pushing for establishing a vendor code
The prospective code of conduct would set guidelines that corporations
would likely adhere to in order to vend at the University.
“Right now there’s no mechanism in place for addressing any kind of
ethical violation by a corporation.”
The University does have a code of conduct for manufacturers of University-licensed
apparel, which Houlton intends to build on.
The University, she said, is a good place to hold corporations accountable.
“There are all these students that are 18 to 22 who are building their
lifelong allegiances to certain products — and that’s a big deal for
these corporations,” she said. “We have this great opportunity to
impact what they do ethically.”
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