The University responds to The Coke Coalition

To the Daily:

I am writing to clarify recent developments regarding the University’s business relationship with The Coca-Cola Corporation.

In its recommendations, the Dispute Review Board set a series of deadlines that would be used to measure progress by Coca-Cola toward resolving concerns about its business practices in Colombia and India. The final decision rests with Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. When he accepted the DRB’s recommendations, the CFO wrote that he would not be hasty in terminating the University’s contracts with Coca-Cola, but rather would look for signs of good-faith progress as a yardstick for extending the contracts.

Coca-Cola has been working closely with a commission of seven universities to resolve our shared concerns, and the company has agreed in principle to a third-party, independent investigation of the circumstances in Colombia and India. It has not signed a formal agreement pending negotiations over specific details. However, it is the CFO’s belief that Coca-Cola has exhibited a good-faith effort to address the complaints, and therefore he decided to extend our contracts on a short-term basis, with the expectation of further progress between now and the end of the year.

According to our Vendor Code of Conduct, “The ideal University-vendor relationship is in the nature of a partnership, seeking mutually agreeable and important goals. Recognizing our mutual interdependence, it is in the best interest of the University to find a resolution when responding to charges or questions about a vendor’s compliance with the provisions of the Code.”

As we continue to work with Coca-Cola on these issues, we have the opportunity to exert a positive influence on its business practices, particularly in concert with other universities. Already, we have seen some positive steps emerge from this approach. If we cut the contracts now, we will of necessity end our influence. This is not consistent with our fundamental values.

Because our contracts with Coca-Cola are being extended on a short-term basis, we have the option of cutting these contracts in the future if we do not see continued progress.

As this process moves forward, we will make every effort to keep our student community informed. Materials including the Vendor Code of Conduct, the DRB’s recommendations, and recent correspondence with Coca-Cola have been posted to the web at www.umich.edu/news/index.html?BG/cocacola.

Peggy Norgren

The letter writer is the University’s associate vice president for finance.

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