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Groups to protest Coke

By Mike New
The Daily Targum
2/23/05

Taste tests never used to be this complicated.

The University will take a taste test of its own tomorrow when it holds a pubic hearing regarding an upcoming decision on the University's new beverage contract once the 10-month extension of the current 10-year contract with Coca-Cola expires in May.

Complicating the decision, however, are several groups on campus who said the administration should not even consider renewing Coca-Cola's contract due to alleged human-rights violations at bottling factories in Colombia.

Ray Rogers, president and director of Corporate Campaign Inc. and the head of the "Campaign to Stop Killer Coke," said Coca-Cola was involved in the murder and torture of Colombian workers who attempted to unionize one of its factories. Coca-Cola has denied these allegations, calling the charges a publicity stunt, false and "outrageous," in its official statement on the issue.

"We have been in Colombia for 70 years and have been an exemplary member of the business community," the statement said.

Rogers, who investigated the matter for several months, said he does not believe Coke, nor does he believe the University should use its products.

"My message is that no institution that prides itself as being a center of ethics should be licensing or lending its name, logo and credibility to Coca-Cola," Rogers said.

As for tomorrow's meeting, Amy Bahruth, a lecturer in the Labor Education Program, understands the University's position, although she wishes there were more options.

Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi are poor options, she said, whether chosen exclusively or not.

"It comes down to the lesser of two evils," Bahruth said. "It still is the corporatization of the University."

Rogers said he appreciates the dilemma the beverage contract presents to the University, because the University needs more funding. However, monetary concerns are not reason enough to renew the Coke contract, he said.

"On one hand, public schools have to try to raise the money. On the other hand, you can't sell your soul to the highest bidder," Rogers said. "The administration is in the process of realizing they must make a change. If they go with Coke because it offers more, that raises questions of ethics of the heads of this University."

Bahruth said she already knows of several students who will attend the hearing representing the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke as well as the University chapter of the American Association of University Professors, who passed a resolution last December opposing the use of Coca-Cola products and urging the University to do the same.

Rogers sees the hearing as an opportunity for students to make their wishes known.

"We have to bring enough pressure on Coke for it to change," Rogers said. "It could have a tremendous impact, the power that students and faculty have within their hands."

As for people who may not care, and who simply prefer Coke, Rogers has a strong message.

"They would probably do well on Wall Street. They have no compassion. I hope that's not what the Scarlet Knight logo represents."

While the University will almost certainly choose either Coke or Pepsi, Rogers proposed the University sign a contract with someone other than the two soft drink giants, suggesting Fuze, whose East Coast office is in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Bahruth said she would support a local, third-party company or companies and believes the biggest problems is getting a company with the capacity to supply the required amount of beverages.

"It's not just the vending machines [that must be filled], it's the miles of soda lines in the dining halls," Bahruth said.

Ideally, Bahruth said she would like to see the University switch to Pepsi for the dining halls, while providing a wider variety of choices in campus vending machines. Her biggest concern, however, is sending Coca-Cola a message, she said.

"People are aware, and people are outraged about what they're doing," Bahruth said.

Rogers also hopes Coke gets the message.

"If you look at civil rights struggles, people have sacrificed a great deal," Rogers said. "This isn't asking a lot. If people aren't willing to drop Coke, we are in very serious problem."

The public hearing for the exclusive beverage contract is 4 p.m. tomorrow at Trayes Hall on Douglass campus.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.