Coalition Campaigns Against Coca-Cola
By Mussarat Bata
Daily Bruin
February 28, 2006

A new group on campus is trying to remove products of the Coca-Cola Company from UCLA.

Coke Free Coalition, a coalition of students from several student groups, demonstrated last week in opposition to having Coca-Cola products on campus.

The group cites human rights violations by Coca-Cola involving Colombian paramilitary fighters and alleged murders of Colombian union organizers, among other issues.

The coalition, formed late fall quarter, includes the Student Worker Front, MEChA, the Social Justice Alliance, the Muslim Students Association and the Asian Pacific Coalition.

Megan Markoff, a second-year political science student and a member of the coalition, said William Mendoza Gomez, the head of the Sinaltrainal, the Colombian workers' union, spoke in January at UCLA as part of a speaking tour, and discussed his first-hand experiences of labor abuses by Coca-Cola.

"Our objective is to make students aware of how Coca-Cola is affiliated with murder and other kidnapping and torture cases," Markoff said. "Students should know that by having Coca-Cola products on campus we're supporting these violations."

Such allegations are nothing new to Coca-Cola, as colleges across the country have taken measures to investigate the company, and some have eliminated it from their campuses.

But Kari Bjorhus, a spokeswoman for the Coca-Cola company, denied the allegations and said the murders have been investigated by both the Colombian courts and the attorney general. Both found no evidence of any Coca-Cola involvement with the crimes, she said.

The coalition is also concerned with possible environmental hazards Coca-Cola factories create in India.

Second-year sociology student and coalition member Lizzy Keegan said Coca-Cola has set up factories in India that contaminate and drain the water resources which makes it impossible for the local farmers to grow crops.

Bjorhus said it is in the best interest of Coca-Cola to make sure workers have access to water, adding that it did not make sense for Coca-Cola to invest in a plant which would use up all the ground water.

More recently, the student coalition has been talking with Associated Students UCLA to discuss the sale of Coca-Cola products at on-campus eateries. The group expressed its concerns at the January ASUCLA Services Committee meeting, Markoff said.

"ASUCLA responded by saying they'd start investigating the issue, but we're still pushing through with action," Markoff said.

ASUCLA Executive Director Bob Williams said ASUCLA has formed a group to look into researching the issue and said a decision would be made in the near future.

Eliminating Coca-Cola products from college campuses is becoming a nation-wide effort, Markoff said.

The University of Michigan announced Dec. 29 the temporary suspension of its contract with Coca-Cola due to the company's lack of cooperation with a third party review of Coca-Cola's conduct.

Coca-Cola issued a statement in response to the Michigan announcement, stating it "is facilitating the design and development of a credible, objective and impartial independent third party assessment in Colombia during the first quarter of 2006."

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