In Wednesday’s Daily, the editorial board contended that the University should move to cut ties with Coke immediately (Drink Faygo instead, 10/05/2005). While the editorial made several valid points in regard to how the review process has been poorly conducted, these frustrations are futile. Even if the University does cut its contract with The Coca-Cola Company, this “solution” will – as in the case of Nike – be temporary and ineffectual. The University’s Vendor Code of Conduct, while noble, is inherently toothless and only serves as an impediment to the University.

Sarah Royce

Nine months after students initially aligned in opposition to Coca-Cola, the University’s future with the company is still in flux and will remain so until May 31, as per a recommendation made by the University’s Dispute Review Board. The Daily correctly expressed frustrations with both Coke and the DRB on this matter; however, the role of the University (not the DRB) was ignored. In fact, University executives are mentioned as the potential saviors who can make sense of this muddled affair.

Yet, the University – more than Coke or the DRB – has a reason to extend deliberation and discussion on this issue: It has much more to lose. The DRB already did its job when it conducted its investigation and validated allegations of human rights abuses. At the same time, Coke is coming off a year of record profits and has already faced courts in both Colombia and India. The prospect of this third-party audit or losing the University’s contract means little to the company. The University, on the other hand, finds itself at a crossroads with both its reputation and financial future at stake.

It has been said: “Coke is the new Nike.” Several years ago, the University ended its contract with Nike – only to reinstate it shortly afterward. On Wednesday, the Daily said it would accept this type of outcome, assuming labor standards were met. However, Nike continues to draw criticism from labor groups. At best, the University cutting its contract with Coke would stand as a similarly trivial admonishment.

In addition to being historically toothless, the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct sets an impossible and harmful standard for the University to maintain. Adhering to the entire code would create a situation in which campus labor groups could hold any business decision the University wanted to make hostage. Potentially more damaging is the impact that a fully enforced code of conduct would have on the prices that the few remaining legitimate businesses would be able to charge the University. This situation might seem absurd, until considering how many businesses are currently under investigation for labor violations.

The University is an institution that values its credibility and integrity, but its credibility and integrity will not be damaged by continuing to do business with Coke. If Coke is found guilty of labor violations, then Coke, not the University, should be punished. The University has responsibilities that can only be accomplished through partnerships with quality businesses that charge reasonable prices.

 

Forester is an LSA sophomore and an member of the Daily’s editorial board. He can be reached at jfote@umich.edu.

 

“In Dissent” opinions do not reflect the views of the Daily’s editorial board. They are solely the views of the author.

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