Despite student objections, the University announced yesterday that Coca-Cola has successfully met the first deadline of its contract renewal process, while under investigation for alleged human rights violations.

After the University’s Dispute Review Board announced in June that it had found credible evidence that Coke violated human rights in Colombia and India – including misuse of toxic pesticides in India and corrupt labor practices in Colombia – the University’s chief financial officer, Timothy Slottow, adjusted Coke’s contracts, requiring that the company meet a series of deadlines over the next year in order to continue doing business with the University.

The DRB operates as a judicial committee that interprets the Vendor Code of Conduct. The code, which was created last year, mandates that all vendors who conduct business with the University adhere to specific labor- and human-rights standards. As a result of its own findings last semester, which support allegations of significant human rights violations by Coca-Cola, the DRB ordered a third-party investigation to determine whether Coke has been adhering to the code.

In yesterday’s announcement, the University said Coke’s response – which the University received on Sept. 30, the day of the first of Coke’s five deadlines for the 2005-06 academic year – satisfactorily meets the DRB’s requirements, which were that Coke accept a third-party audit or take “good-faith actions.”

In a memo, Dennis Poszywak, director of purchasing for the University and a member of the DRB, said Coke is “not in a position to agree to the investigation in Colombia or India.” Although the DRB’s original requirement was that Coke agree to the audits by the September deadline, Poszywak still didn’t recommend that the contract be cut because of what he sees as “good faith actions” from Coke – a standard that Slottow had earlier said he would accept, to the dismay of anti-Coke student groups.

Slottow and Peggy Norgren, associate vice president for finance, sent a letter to Coke yesterday informing the company of their decision.

“They’ve taken a number of steps to move the investigations forward. We’ll want to keep watching to make sure they keep moving forward with the investigation process,” Norgren said.

However, before the University announced its decision yesterday, the Coke-Campaign Coalition, a group of students that is agitating for the University to cut its contracts with Coke, had delivered letters of its own.

The coalition delivered letters to University administrators earlier yesterday saying that if they don’t cut the contract with the soft-drink giant, the coalition will escalate its anti-Coke campaign.

Coke-Campaign Coalition members Nafisah Ula, Lindsey Rogers and Ben Grimshaw delivered letters to the secretaries of Slottow, Norgren and University President Mary Sue Coleman, which said that Coke’s letter was an unacceptable response to the deadline and therefore the contract should be cut.

“Coca-Cola’s letter was full of half-truths and lies,” Grimshaw said. “Coca-Cola is treating this as a PR issue, rather than a labor issue.”

Norgren said the students’ letter ignores some significant factors that need to be taken into account before making the decision.

“I think what the students are failing to recognize is that the committee has made substantial progress with the Colombia assessment plans in collaboration with Coke, and the Sept. 30 letter reiterated their commitment to working toward this end,” Norgren said.

Kerry Kerr, a spokesman for Coke, said the company was very thankful to the University for its thoughtful response.

“We want to continue to work with the University on the issues raised by the Dispute Review Board,” Kerr said. “We are engaged in a significant effort involved with a number of colleges and Universities, including the University of Michigan, and that’s to gather more information and also review potential approaches to resolve these issues.”

Kerr said she was disappointed with the actions taken by the coalition.

“We do feel that’s unfortunate, because we are committed to working with the school toward making progress,” she said of the students’ response to Coke’s letter.

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