University of Minnesota Pays Attention to Coca-Cola Scrutiny

Coca-Cola Representatives Informed Us of Steps Coca-Cola Has Taken

By Kathleen O'Brien and Jerry Rinehart
Minnesota Daily
April 10, 2006

As noted in recent Daily editorials, columns and letters to the editor there have been a number of allegations made against Coca-Cola Enterprises and affiliated companies regarding their practices in several countries. The majority of these allegations relate to either labor practices or environmental issues.

Our neighbor, Macalester College, was recently in the news as a committee forwarded a recommendation to the president of the college to ban Coca-Cola products. At several other colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan, New York University and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, various actions have been taken in response to these allegations.

In response to some of the allegations against Coca-Cola, the Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution at the end of last semester asking that the University's administration inquire into these allegations.

In response to MSA's request, the University formed a working group to review the allegations made against Coca-Cola in various parts of the world, including Colombia, India and Turkey.

So far, the group has reviewed documents, consulted with other institutions and has met with representatives of Coca-Cola. We anticipate completing this review by the start of the fall semester. When the review is complete the information gathered will be shared with students through the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and MSA, and with the greater campus community through existing University consultative committees.

Members of the administrative work group also are working with MSA and GAPSA to plan an educational public forum. The primary purpose is to provide education about these matters from several points of view. In addition, the forum will provide a place for public discussion and the expression of views from all sides.

At our meeting with Coca-Cola representatives, they informed us of several steps Coca-Cola has taken to respond to some of the allegations against them, which we thought would be of interest to the University community. At the request of Coca-Cola and a federation of labor organizations, the United Nations International Labour Organization has agreed to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of human rights abuse allegations in Colombia.

The ILO was founded in 1919 and is dedicated to the promotion of social justice and human and labor rights. Coca-Cola also recently committed to engage in the United Nations Global Compact. The focus areas of the Global Compact include human rights, labor rights, protection of the environment and anti-corruption.

The University has enjoyed a good business relationship with Coca-Cola that has provided many benefits to the University and the community.

Under its contract with the University, Coca-Cola has provided extensive support for student activities and our academic mission. The contract with Coca-Cola was entered into in April 1996, and runs until June 30, 2008.

Our long-term relationship with Coca-Cola, which has been mutually beneficial, only underscores the importance of the kind of careful and deliberate review under way.

Kathleen O'Brien is vice president for University Services. Jerry Rinehart is vice provost for Student Affairs.

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