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Coca-Cola Vending Machine Ban Divides University Students

3/10/05

(ANSA) - Rome, March 10 - Students at a Rome university are divided over a decision to ban Coca-Cola products from campus vending machines in a move designed to protest the multinational's policies.

While many are in favor of the step, which follows similar action on some US and Irish campuses, others complain that it is politically motivated and unwarranted.

"In an institute that has such a good academic reputation, we felt it was important to consider the ethical implications of our consumption," explained Enrico Crescenzi, whose left-wing Ricomincio dagli Studenti students lobby list first proposed the idea to the governing council.

"It's intended to exclude brand-name products that exploit workers or violate human rights".

So far six universities in the US and two in Ireland have banned Coca-Cola products in response to pleas by the New York-based Campaign To Stop Killer Coke.

The group, which was set up in April 2003, alleges that the company was implicated in the murder of eight labor organizers at bottling plants in Colombia.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also accused the multinational of intimidating workers and "gross human rights abuses".

Following the campaigns on US and Irish campuses, Italy now looks set to follow suit.

Roma Tre, the capital's third largest university, has agreed to replace sodas such as Coke, Fanta and Sprite with organic fruit juice.

Snacks distributed by the company will be ditched in favor of products from small, southern hemisphere producers. There will be a particular push for distributors who ensure that producers get as much of the final profit as possible.

But although the university governing council approved the proposal unanimously, Azione Universitaria, the student group affiliated with the right-wing National Alliance party, as dismissed the idea as "ludicrous".

It insists that the move is an infringement of students' right to choose and says a similar step recently taken by a nearby district council is to blame.

"The governing council has been completely influenced by the left, following the absurd example set by the nearby 11th District Council, which is run by Communists," said Andrea Volpi, a student registered with Azione Universitaria.

"Students, workers and lecturers are being deprived of their freedom to chose the drink that is most widely drunk around the world.

"They're banning us from drinking Coca Cola during our breaks for ideological reasons but then I don't understand why left-wing students forget to boycott products from Cuba or China."

Crescenzi defended the move by pointing out the decision to remove Coca-Cola from vending machines did not amount to a general ban on the drink.

"Those who feel they can't manage without Coke will still be able to buy it from the university's cafe outlets," he said. "And as far as I'm aware, the university doesn't sell any products from Cuba or China."

Rome's 11th District Council decided to remove products distributed by Coca-Cola from municipal office vending machines last October, kicking off a nationwide campaign to spread information about the multinational's alleged practices.

Supported by the Rete del Nuovo Municipio, a network of municipal and district councils dedicated to fair trade and ethical practices, this aims to encourage local authorities across the country to boycott Coca-Cola products.

The changes in Roma Tre's vending machines will only be implemented gradually.

Existing stock has to be finished and current contracts must be completed before the switch is made. This will take place after the next round of contract bidding, in which only certain, selected distributors will be invited to participate.

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