Based on a report of the company’s environmental standards in India released yesterday, the University has agreed to continue purchasing Coca-Cola products.
Some students whose activism helped spur the report though, say the findings don’t change their opposition to the University’s dealings with the company.
The University commissioned the report in response to a now-defunct student campaign to investigate the company’s environmental standards in India and alleged human rights violations in Colombia. The campaign, which was led by the Coalition to Cut Contracts with Coca-Cola, began in 2004. It reached its peak when the University briefly suspended its contracts with Coke in late 2005.
Students claimed that Coke’s practices in the two countries violated the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct, which outlines standards for companies conducting business with the University.
After a 16-month investigation, The Energy and Resources Institute, an independent environmental research organization based in New Delhi, found that two of the company’s six plants examined in the report were contributing to water shortages in the areas surrounding the facilities, but cleared the company of allegations of high pesticide levels in both the water used to make the beverages and the water being discharged by the plant.
The report also says the company met all governmental pollution and water quality standards. But in some cases, the report says, Coke failed to meet its own stricter quality standards.
The India investigation represents one half of the University’s original dispute with the soft-drink giant. Students also lobbied the University to cut the contracts because of alleged human rights violations in the treatment of union workers at a Colombian bottling plant.
In response to the student campaign, the University’s Dispute Review Board agreed to look into the alleged violations. In June 2005, the Board reported it had found evidence that Coke’s practices in both countries violated the code.
The University didn’t renew its contract with Coke when it lapsed at the end of 2006 because Coke failed to meet a deadline to appoint an independent investigator to look into the allegations.
After a four-month suspension, the University reinstated its contracts in April 2006 after the company agreed to two third-party investigations in Colombia and India,
The investigations missed several deadlines set by the University’s Dispute Review Board. The initial deadline for the reports to be completed was April 30, 2007.
Peggy Norgren, associate vice president for finance, said she’s received no indication of when the investigation in Colombia will be complete.
The International Labour Organization, a branch of the United Nations that monitors human and labor rights standards, is conducting that inquiry.
Norgren said the investigation was initially delayed because the ILO wanted to establish an office in the Colombia before beginning its work.
In a Jan. 11, 2008 letter to Timothy Slottow, the University’s chief financial officer, Coke responded to the TERI report and agreed to start implementing the report’s recommendations including improving the plants’ water efficiency and more rigorously evaluating existing and future plants’ water use.
According to a letter dated yesterday, signed by Slottow and Norgren, the University has agreed to continue its dealings with the company.
The letter says the University considers the dispute concerning India to be resolved, but that the University’s relationship with the company is still dependent on the Colombia investigation.
The University’s direct contracts with Coke total about $360,000, Norgren said. The University also has about a million dollars in contracts with companies like vending machine suppliers that contract with Coke, she said.
Several students involved in the Coke campaign said they were not impressed by the report’s findings.
Neil Sardana, a Public Health graduate student, said the report won’t affect the group’s plans on campus because water quality in India was only one alleged violation that concerned the group.
“This doesn’t change the situation in Colombia,” he said.
Coalition members have also been critical of both investigations’ independence from Coke because of what they say are financial ties between the organizations and Coke.
“We never saw them (TERI) as a legitimate investigator in India,” Sardana said.
LSA senior Lindsey Rogers, a former campaign member who’s followed the issue since her freshman year, said the report’s findings don’t change her objections to the company.
Rogers said that the report’s release may actually help to revive the defunct campaign, which lost momentum shortly after the University reinstated its contracts.
“This could be what’s needed to spark interest in this issue again,” Rogers said.
The University will host a forum to discuss the report tomorrow from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in room 2105A of the Michigan Union. Norgren and Andrew Hoffman, a professor in the Business School and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, will present the report’s findings and take questions from the audience.