As part of its ongoing effort to pressure the University into cutting off all contracts with the Coca-Cola Company, yesterday the Killer Coke Coalition held a rally on the Diag and a teach-in at Haven Hall. The Killer Coke Coalition is a partnership between the student groups Amnesty International, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality and Environmental Justice and Tzedek — the Hillel Committee for Social Justice. As a means for gaining support for its proposal, the coalition has been recently escalating its activities aimed at educating the student body.
One feature of the rally was a 125-foot chain of coke bottles and cans spread across the Diag, representing Coke’s alleged role in a 125-foot decline in the water levels in India, a region plagued by drought. Another was a movie called “State of the Union,” which documented the plight of union workers at Coke bottling plants in Colombia. The movie was told through interviews with union members who had been threatened or had attempts made on their lives by paramilitaries, who, they allege were in league with managers of the bottling plants.
LSA student and Green Party member Nat Damren gave a speech on the history of paramilitaries in Colombia, stressing why it was necessary to take action against Coke. “We should not allow corporations we do business with to contract out their responsibility for ensuring human rights, labor rights and environmental standards,” said Duran, who was the Green Party candidate for the University Board of Regents last year.
Lori Billingsley, the issues director of Coca-Cola, denies all of the allegations of Coca-Cola having connections with illegal armed groups. The company has conducted investigations and has found no evidence linking Coca-Cola Company or any of their bottling franchises to paramilitaries, she said.
“The allegations are false. We have been in Colombia for 70 years and have been an exemplary member of the business community. It is outrageous to believe that the Coca-Cola Company would have anything to do with this type of behavior,” said Billingsley. “One of the unions in Colombia that represents the bottlers, SinalTrainbec, have publicly stated that they don’t have a single indication that Coca-Cola or any other bottler has links to armed groups,” she added.
The effort by universities and colleges across the country to break off economic ties with Coca Cola has been widespread. Already, six American colleges, including Bard College, Oberlin College and Carlton College, have ended their contracts with Coca-Cola. The Michigan Student Assembly will be voting on a resolution endorsing the termination of Coke contracts next Tuesday.
The coalition wants the University to end its contracts with Coca-Cola because it believes the company violates the vendor code that vendors that do business with the University must be ethically responsible. University President Mary Sue Coleman’s Task Force for Purchasing Ethics and Polices created the vendor code in March of last year. The Dispute Review Board also exists at the University to make sure companies are in compliance with the code.
Members of the coalition have mixed feelings on how well the administration has dealt with the proposal. Most say that the purchasing services department has been fairly responsive, but said that the dispute review board has been continually putting the issue on the back burner.
The administration disagrees, saying that it is just at the beginning of the investigations and is following proper procedure.
“(The Dispute Review Board’s) role is to review complaints precisely like this one. So they are considering the issue and that’s the right place for it to be dealt with,” said University spokeswoman Julie Peterson.