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SAI Crashes Coke Meeting

By Margaret Hawryluk
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Issue: 4/28/05
Hofstra University

University students brought their campaign against Coca-Cola directly to the company's chief executive officer last week.

The members of Students Against Injustice (SAI) attended a meeting for the company's shareholders in Wilmington, Del. On April 19, to continue their campaign against the corporation and what they argue as injustices.

"We at Hofstra have a chance to help," said Vanessa Cudabac, Latin American and Caribbean studies major.

Cudabac, along with fellow SAI members, Alex White and Kristina Marusic, joined demonstrators from the University of Michigan, Smith College and other supporters of the anti-Coca-Cola campaign in front of Hotel du Pont, where the annual meeting was held.

"No one had anything good to say at the meeting," Cudabac said.

In the past, the meeting has been a celebration of the company's successful fiscal year, said White, a senior economics major. However, last week activists put a damper on the party when they questioned Coca-Cola's chief executive officer, E. Neville Isdell and other representatives, about the justification behind the corporation's inhumane actions. The protesters also asked whether shareholders planned on making any positive changes, White said.

The only way the demonstrators could gain access to the meeting was by acting as substitutes for current shareholders. Cudabac was granted permission to enter as a proxy for shareholder, Mary Tucker, of Citigroup.

"I don't think Coke knew the meeting would be controlled by activists," Cudabac said.

She said the CEO seemed frustrated by the questions of the demonstrators posing as shareholders and did not want to discuss the issue at all. Cudabac added that when she finally received the chance to ask Neville a question, he tried to interrupt her.

"He said he was already done discussing the issue," said Cudabac, whose question was never addressed.

The University has joined over 80 other colleges and universities in the protest of the beverages distributed by the corporation.

The meeting occurred one day before the Coke referendum was presented to University students on the Student Government Association election ballot. The referendum asking the University to end its exclusive contract with Coca-Cola and offer different beverage choices on campus passed with 506 votes. Cudabac said it won with 80 more votes than any candidate that received the majority vote on the ballot.

If University President Stuart Rabinowitz decides to follow through with the referendum, the University's exclusive contract with Coke will end this semester. Rabinowitz, along with the Board of Trustees, will decide on new beverage possibilities by next semester, White said.

"We don't want this to turn into another exclusive contract," he said, opposing a similar arrangement with another beverage provider, such as Pepsi.

"We shouldn't have to pick the lesser of two evils," he added.

In their meetings with Rabinowitz, SAI introduced Big Geyser, distributor of such beverages as Nantucket Nectars, Jones Soda, Aquafina and Vitamin Water, to the president as a new option on campus, said Cudabac.

She added that at the shareholders meeting, the CEO said he did not want Coke to lose one sale, but if the company loses its contract with the University, it will lose thousands of sales.

"Our university will force Coke to rethink its actions," she said.

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