Responding to alleged human rights violations by the Coca-Cola Corporation, Michigan Student Assembly representatives and campus activists proposed a resolution last night urging the University to sever its $1.3 million contract with the soft-drink manufacturer. The MSA resolution charges Coca-Cola with a number of deplorable anti-union activities, including the kidnapping, torture and murder of high-level South American union activists. It further accuses the company of polluting the water supply in India and using the water in manufacturing its products. In addition, this resolution claims that Coca-Cola’s bottlers and distributors in Africa deny even basic health care to their employees infected with the HIV virus. Unless Coca-Cola can provide indisputable evidence to refute these allegations, the University should not renew its contract with Coke.

Angela Cesere

The MSA resolution calls for the University’s External Relations Committee and Justice Commission to send a letter to Coca-Cola, demanding that the company address these human rights violations as well as institute policies to prevent any further incidents.

While these charges may seem farfetched, they have thus far been reported by a number of major news sources including The New York Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation. MSA should pass this resolution, and the University, which has a major contract with Coke, must seriously investigate these supposed transgressions, and be prepared to terminate its contract with Coke if shown incontrovertible proof that the company is engaging in illegal and morally suspect behavior.

The University’s $1.3 million contract with Coke is set to expire this June, and these accusations, the University must question whether it plans to renew its contract. Last year, the University established the Code of Conduct for University of Michigan Vendors, stating that “In aligning its purchasing policies with its core values and practices, the University seeks to recognize and promote basic human rights.” If the University is committed to this code, it must not ignore the series of potential violations Coca-Cola may have committed and make sure that Coca-Cola’s business practices are commensurate with the values of the University.

Because there is no definitive proof supporting the claims against Coca-Cola, the University should attempt to ascertain whether Coke is guilty as charged and should request the Worker Rights Consortium, to which the University is a party, to investigate Coke. If the allegations are true, the University should not only immediately terminate its contract with Coke, but also refuse to reinstate it until Coke provides substantial proof that it has repudiated inhumane labor practices. Considering the weight of the accusations against Coke, the University should hesitate to renew the contract in June unless Coke can provide evidence refuting the claims made against it.

However, given that the allegations against Coke are still simply allegations, the University should not act brashly and immediately sever its contract. Instead, between now and June, the University must delve into this issue and decide whether Coca-Cola abides by the University’s code of conduct.

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