The second phase of the University’s hearing of the allegations brought against the Coca-Cola Company began yesterday, when the newly formed Dispute Review Board agreed to conduct a formal investigation on the charges.
The Coke-Campaign Coalition recently brought forth complaints against the Coca-Cola Company as a part of an international movement, accusing the company of significant human and labor rights violations in Colombia and India.
As a result, the coalition has been pressuring the University to drop its contract with Coca-Cola until the company has met the demands that have been brought to it by the affected communities in India and Colombia.
The purchasing office will send a bound collection of materials to Coca-Cola today, which will include some of the reports that the office has gathered and a letter informing the company that the DRB has taken up a formal investigation. The letter will also request that Coca-Cola send a detailed response to the allegations by March 22.
One of the reports included will be a letter from Javier Correa, the union leader from Sinaltrainal, which is the third largest union in Colombia.
Correa delivered testimony to the Michigan Student Assembly last month in an effort to help educate MSA representatives before their vote on a resolution that would recommend that the University consider the Coke-Campaign Coalition’s allegations on behalf of the entire student body. MSA passed this resolution unanimously the next day.
The University’s purchasing office has been informally investigating the allegations since it was asked by student groups to do so in November. Because of the depth of the information that the purchasing office found, it has made a recommendation to the DRB to conduct a formal investigation into the allegations in order to shed more light on the issue.
In the past, resolving issues with vendors has been the role of the purchasing office, but when the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct — which mandates that all vendors who conduct business with the University adhere to specific guidelines — was passed last spring, it established the DRB as an additional tool for investigation of grievances.
The DRB is composed of seven members; three of them are faculty and the other four members are composed of two students and two University employees.
“We’re the neutral party,” said Dennis Poszywak, assistant director of the purchasing office and a member of the review board. “Sometimes we’re the champion for the company; sometimes the (accusers are) wrong.”
“Most of the time, we can handle disputes. We now have a new formal board we can turn to outside of procurement.”
Because the DRB is an emerging project, its guidelines for functioning have not yet been established. One goal of yesterday’s meeting was to set these rules so that the committee can move on with the investigation.
Frank Stafford, chair of DRB, said the board hopes to complete the rules by next Monday.
During the meeting, Residential College sophomore Julia Ris, a student representative on the DRB and a member of the Coke-Campaign Coalition, stressed the importance of the DRB hearing from students while conducting its investigation.
“Students are the ones bringing the complaints forward,” Ris said. “The DRB was created in a response to student complaints, and should therefore be able to voice those complaints during constituents’ time.”
But other members of the board felt that student feedback should be delayed until after March 22, the date that DRB has given to Coca-Cola as a deadline for its response.
Sherrie Kossoudji, a faculty representative on the DRB, explained that she felt it would be unjust for the board to hear from students before its procedures had been finalized.
“We want to make sure we are prepared to hear the comments and that we hear them at appropriate times,” Kossoudji said.
The DRB will hold weekly meetings on Mondays as they continue their investigation.