To the University Administration:
You created the Dispute Review Board to ensure that the corporations with which the University does business adhere to basic ethical business and labor practices as framed in the Vendor Code of Conduct. A complaint was filed against The Coca-Cola Company, and after many months, the board found “convincing evidence of a lack of compliance with the VCC” regarding Coke’s human rights abuses in Colombia and environmental degradation in India. The DRB set a firm deadline of Sept. 30 for Coke to agree in writing to a comprehensive, independent, third-party investigation.
On Sept. 30, you received a letter from Coca-Cola mere hours before the deadline. The letter came, but the agreement was missing. Nowhere in this letter did Coke expressly agree to cooperate with an independent investigation. Instead, Coke sent a carefully crafted response stating, ” – (W)e proposed that a working group be made up of a number of administrators, faculty and students to look at the feasibility of conducting a third party assessment of current conditions in Colombia and India.” This statement does not pronounce agreement to any sort of investigation. Rather, it creates a legal loophole through which Coke could reject cooperation. Additionally, the DRB has made it clear that it expects an investigation of the allegations against Coke. Coke refers to an “assessment,” which indicates that the company still refuses to acknowledge the severity of the allegations or any culpability.
The letter also included several pages of misleading statements and outright lies regarding the supposed improvements made in the affected communities in India and Colombia and the company’s “cooperation” with the working group outlining an investigation. First, none of the claims of improvement have been verified in any way by the people in India or Colombia. Second, instead of acting in good faith and agreeing to a standard of transparency, Coca-Cola has instead attempted to stall and undermine the progress of the investigation by insisting on attempting to “edit” the terms of the investigation in ways that would effectively destroy its validity, including the unreasonable demands that only present conditions be assessed and that findings not be used by litigants in an ongoing lawsuit against Coca-Cola. Given that the lawsuit concerns the murder of one of the Colombian workers, it is disturbing that Coke would preemptively seek to conceal the results of the investigation. These demands have stalled the process of drafting the methodology for the investigation, giving Coke further excuse to delay the investigative process.
In prior meetings, you had promised the student coalition would be notified immediately upon receipt of Coke’s letter. Though this letter was received on Sept. 30, when students called the office of Peggy Norgren, the University’s associate vice president for finance, on that day, we were told that no letter had been received. We found out from a Daily reporter several days later, after Norgren was phoned at her home. Furthermore, the letter itself was purposely withheld from students until an even later date.
The student campaign is dismayed by the University administration’s continued dishonesty and evasiveness in dealings with us. We began this campaign with faith that we could effectively work together. However, after almost a year of meetings, commissions, e-mails and letters, after playing by your rules, no matter how convincing our arguments are, your responses have been unacceptable. It seems that you are more inclined to listen to corporate doublespeak than to the concerns of your students. The administration is failing to enforce its own Vendor Code of Conduct, and in the process, is complicit with Coca-Cola’s crimes.
Your DRB found these actions by Coke in violation of the VCC. The DRB set a deadline for Coke to agree to an investigation by Sept. 30. Coke missed this deadline. We call on Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow, Norgren and the University administration to act now. We demand that the contract be cut before Nov. 1. If you do not take action, this campaign will be escalated.
This letter was delivered to University President Mary Sue Coleman Associate Vice-President for Finance Peggy Norgren and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow on Oct. 14. The Coke-Campaign Coalition wishes to make it available to the wider campus community.