Anivar Aravind (anivar) wrote in stolngeneration,
Anivar Aravind

University Demands Answers from Coca-Cola

*Ann Arbor, Michigan, US:* The Coca-Cola Company was put on the
defensive yesterday under the intense scrutiny of students, professors,
and administrators at the University of Michigan. An expansive
six-month-long student campaign came to a head as 11 corporate
representatives were forced to account for Coca-Cola's crimes in
Colombia and India. In Colombia, Coke has been involved in the murders,
threats, displacements, disappearances and attacks of union workers at
its bottling plants. In India, the company has depleted the water
supply, distributed toxic waste to farmers under the guise of
fertilizer, and sold soft drinks containing excessively high levels of
pesticides. Students are demanding that the University of Michigan cut
its $1.3 million contract with the Coca-Cola Company. The campaign at
the University is part of an international student movement in
solidarity with workers in Colombia and farmers in India. Thirteen other
universities have already cut their contracts with Coca-Cola.

The recently released report by Cal Safety, commissioned by Coca-Cola to
evaluate accusations of human rights abuses at its bottling plants in
Colombia, was largely discredited by students. "Cal Safety is not a
credible monitor. It follows none of the internationally recognized
monitoring standards and practices used by mainstream human rights and
labor organizations. They are in fact entirely funded by corporations
with reprehensible labor records, including Walmart and Nike," said Jory
Hearst, a University of Michigan sophomore. Cal Safety is a social
auditing firm whose egregious oversight in the El Monte slave sweatshop
case launched the global anti-sweatshop movement in the mid-1990s.
Despite its complete lack of credibility, Coca-Cola has refused to allow
an investigation by any body other than Cal Safety, not even the
University-supported Worker's Rights Consortium. Members of the Dispute
Review Board expressed concern over Coca-Cola's unwillingness to
compromise on a third party investigation. Coca-Cola representatives
were mute in response to Andy Hoffmann, a member of University of
Michigan's Dispute Review Board, when he questioned, "So it's Cal Safety
or nothing?"

"On the India issue, if you are a leader in environmental standards, why
do you choose to build and operate plants in areas prone to drought and
water shortages?" continued Professor Hoffmann. Students pointed out
that Coca-Cola's defense contained repeated distortions and outright
lies. In particular, students noted that though Coca-Cola claimed to
reform is behavior voluntarily, it was actually forced to stop the
distribution of toxic waste as fertilizer, to cease the withdrawal of
water from depleted aquifers in the state of Kerala, and to label high
pesticide levels in its soft drinks by Indian court orders. As Adri
Miller, a University freshman, pointed out, "If Coke has ever changed
its business practices, it has been the result of pressure from Indian
civil society or the courts, never voluntarily."

Nine representatives from Coca-Cola and two additional conference
callers from Shanghai, China, faced the interrogation. The University of
Michigan is one of the most prominent schools to launch a campaign
against Coca-Cola. The University has been a leader in social justice
among universities and was forced by students to adopt a forward-looking
code of conduct for its vendors. Clearly, if the Dispute Review Board
recommends cutting the contract upon its expiration in June, this will
be a major setback for the Coca-Cola Company.
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