The University resumed purchasing Coca-Cola products yesterday about four months after it suspended its contracts with Coke because the company wouldn’t agree to an audit of its alleged human rights violations.

Jessica Boullion
Engineering senior Brian Swift walks past a Coke mural on the corner of State and Packard yesterday. (AARON SWICK/Daily)

Coke products will be back in vending machines on campus within a few days.

The company has proposed two independent investigations into its labor practices in India and Colombia. The University accepted them, drawing both ire and praise from students.

The University received a letter from Coca-Cola on Monday that said the company is working with two organizations to conduct independent investigations, one to assess its practices in Colombia and the other in India.

Since suspending purchasing of Coca-Cola in December, the University has been working with the company to find a mutually acceptable third-party auditor.

The International Labor Organization, a branch of the United Nations that upholds internationally recognized human and labor rights, agreed on March 24 to conduct an independent investigation of the company in Colombia.

“We are committed to full cooperation,” Donald Knauss, president of Coca-Cola North America, wrote in a letter to the University.

Knauss also wrote that the company is pursuing an independent investigation through a Delhi-based group called the Energy and Resources Institute, which specializes in environmental issues, to look into the company in India. The details of the investigation have not been finalized, but will be determined in the next few weeks.

In its letter to Coca-Cola, the University expressed its support for the company’s pursuit of audits in both countries.

“We respect the reputation and track record of ILO in advancing the rights of workers around the world,” Timothy Slottow, the University’s chief financial officer, and Peggy Norgren, associate vice president for finance, wrote in their co-signed letter to Knauss.

In the same letter, they said the University is supportive of Coke’s plans with TERI, which they called “a highly respected nonprofit organization.”

The decision to bring Coke back to campus has outraged members of the Coalition to Cut Contracts with Coca-Cola, a network of student groups.

“Coca-Cola has done nothing to comply with the University’s lauded code of conduct and has made no effort to rectify any of the allegations against it. I have lost all faith in this University,” said RC junior Julia Ris, a former student member of the Dispute Review Board, the board responsible for advising Slottow on alleged violations of the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct.

Students in the coalition said they were angry with the administration for leaving them out of the process.

“It’s a massive betrayal of the trust the administration claimed to value with their students,” RC sophomore Adri Miller said.

Some students had not heard of the decision until asked about it by The Michigan Daily.

“Students have been shut out of the process. I am ashamed that my University has made such a naive decision,” said RC senior Clara Hardie, a member of the coalition.

Some students on campus reacted positively to the decision.

“Market demands and people’s political beliefs met at a reasoned compromise,” Law student Brett Greenberg said.

The Dispute Review Board announced last June that it had found credible evidence of Coke committing human rights and labor violations in India and Colombia.

Since that time, the University has been attempting to negotiate a schedule for the company to agree to an independent investigation and publish the results.

The results of both investigations will be public. The University will now try to renew its 13 direct and indirect contracts with Coca-Cola, worth a total of about $1.4 million.

Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kari Bjorhus said the company is pleased that the University will resume sales of Coke products.

“The University’s decision was based upon facts, and we appreciate its diligence in reviewing our commitments to conduct business responsibly,” Bjorhus said in a written statement.

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