The University’s Dispute Review Board has officially recommended that the University suspend its contracts with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, replacing them with shorter conditional contracts while the company has time to respond to the allegations of human rights violations that the board has found credible.

The DRB recommended that Coke agree in writing, no later than September 30, to a third-party audit that will review the complaints against the company. An independent auditor, satisfactory to all parties, must be selected by December 31. The audit must be completed by March 31, 2006, and findings must be received by April 30, 2006. Coke must enact a corrective action plan by May 31, 2006. If any of these demands are not met by Coke, the company faces the serious possibility of having its contract with the University cut.

The decision did not come as a surprise, but some were still disappointed by the University’s seemingly relaxed response.

“Unfortunately in our society, the richer and more powerful the criminal, the less swift our sanctions and justice,” said Ray Rogers, director of both Corporate Campaign Incorporated and the Campaign to stop Killer Coke.

Last year the University approved a Vendor Code of Conduct, which says that all vendors that do business with the University must adhere to specific standards. The DRB was created last year in order to investigate complaints brought forth against vendors for violations of the code and to make recommendations to University Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow.

The DRB began research for their formal report after a recommendation following an informal investigation from University Purchasing Services.

Since the start of its formal investigation, the DRB has found evidence in support of allegations of pesticides in India and corrupt labor practices in Colombia. The DRB said there is not enough information to make a decision about the other two allegations.

Frank Stafford, chair of the DRB, said that while the board considered cutting the contract, ultimately they believed the spirit of the review process for the Code of Conduct is that the vendor should have time to work with the University, in order to provide additional information about its practices to clear its name, or reform its practices in accordance with the University’s standards.

“The interpretation of the committee was that the code itself was not designed to sanction vendors, (but) to get them to go in a direction that we’d like,” Stafford said. “If they don’t step-up and participate in corrective actions and providing more information in a big way, it would be cause to terminate the contract.”

In a letter to the DRB, Slottow wrote that he agreed with the DRB’s interpretation of the code.

“As originally conceived, one of the most important goals of the Vendor Code of Conduct is to influence vendors to exercise a high standard of conduct. I believe that the recommendations are consistent with this goal,” Slottow said.

Slottow said that the solution that the DRB has proposed allows the University to continue to positively influence the way Coke does business by holding the threat of severing the contract.

Even though members of the Coalition were slightly disappointed by some of the terms of the decision, they still counted it as a victory.

LSA junior Ben Grimshaw, an active member of the Coke Campaign Coalition who was recently appointed as a student representative on the DRB, commended the University’s strictness with deadlines, but felt that they gave the company too much time.

“I thought it was good that the Administration is setting strict parameters for Coke to follow, but it gives Coke a lot of time to stall. The decision doesn’t recognize the urgency of the situation,” Grimshaw said.

Rogers agreed with Grimshaw that time should have been taken into greater consideration while making the decision.

“I’m glad the University is moving forward but time is of the essence. The fact is that there are a number of workers and colleagues facing life or death situations right now,” Rogers said.

In a written statement, the coalition said that the students are committed to ensuring that the University carries out a completely independent investigation.

“Anything less than a truly independent investigation will be deemed illegitimate,” members of the coalition wrote.

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