After ten months of conflict, the University decided Dec. 29 to suspend purchasing of Coca-Cola products following the company’s failure to meet a deadline set by the University’s Dispute Review Board.
The DRB, a committee in charge of reviewing complaints against the Vendor Code of Conduct, had asked Coke to choose an independent investigator to look into alleged human rights violations in Asia and South America by Dec. 31.
In a letter dated Dec. 16, Coke said it would miss that deadline, due to what the company called “legal risks” stemming from a current Florida lawsuit in which the company is defending itself from charges of human rights violations. The company does not want the results of the investigation to be used against it in the suit.
In response to the University’s decision, Coke released a statement saying it is “exploring other ways that we might be able to conduct an additional credible, objective and impartial independent third-party assessment in Colombia without incurring legal risks.”
Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kari Bjorhus said the company is exploring several options for conducting an assessment, but she could not say whether it would be able to meet the March 31 deadline.
The DRB recommended in June that Coke adhere to a list of five deadlines spaced out over the 2005-2006 academic year.
The first, which passed on Sept. 30, required Coke to agree in writing to an independent investigation.
The University decided not to suspend contracts at that point because the University’s Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow determined that the company’s letter was written in “good faith.”
Many student activists felt that Coke had avoided the issue.
Missing the Dec. 31 deadline has put Coke further behind schedule, but the University still expects Coke’s independent investigator to finish a report by March 31, with findings published by April 30. If the company fails to meet either of these deadlines, the suspension will continue.
The University’s total yearly expenditure on Coke products is $1.4 million. It holds 13 direct and indirect contracts with the company.
Most of those contracts expired between June and November, but were extended through the end of the year. The University did not enter into any new contracts during that time.
The Coalition to Cut the Contract with Coca-Cola, a group of student organizations that has led the effort to have the University cut its contracts with Coke, applauded the University’s decision in a written statement last week.
But the group said it is concerned that the University still maintains Coke is acting in “good faith” despite allegations of environmental and human rights violations.
The statement condemns Coke, stating that “the Coca-Cola Company’s efforts to treat those violations as public relations issues, instead of taking the necessary steps to become a socially responsible corporation.”
Coca-Cola products will not be completely eliminated from campus. Some third-party vendors such as restaurant franchises may continue to carry the products because they have agreements that require them to do so.
Campus vending machines that contain Coke products will either be stocked with alternate products or they will stay empty.