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Students question Coke's ethics

By Christopher Newland and Maria Chercoles
The Beacon, Florida International University
March 1, 2007

The Student Government Association has decided to support a student campaign asking that the University think twice before renewing its contract with Coca-Cola this April.

The campaign - which has been named "Killer Coke" - is spearheaded by the United Students Against Sweatshops. Representatives from the organization say that Coke hasn't been able to answer certain questions related to its labor practices abroad.

The Coca-Cola Company currently has a 10-year exclusivity contract with FIU under the terms that the contract will open for revision and bidding after its fifth year, which will occur at the end of this semester.

According to USAS, if the contract is terminated in April, FIU will not have to pay any compensation to the company. This is why the campaign is racing against time.

The club alleges that the company has been using more than its fair share of water in India, violating the country's restrictions on how much can be used. They also say that the company has unfair labor practices in Turkey and the organization even alleges that Coke has hired paramilitary troops in Colombia to murder and scare union leaders.

USAS first presented its case to SGA two weeks ago, and Alfonso "Alfie" Leon, president of the Student Government Council at University Park, agreed to support the club.

USAS member Laura Garcia then gave a presentation at the council's weekly meeting Feb. 21 and asked council members to volunteer and help conduct an extensive investigation on the company's practices that will later be presented to University officials.

"The reason we ask SGA for support is because you are elected representatives and the University hears your concerns. It is easier for you to reach high officials [than for the average student]," Garcia said at the meeting.

At the end of the presentation, four SGA members agreed to volunteer in the newly formed committee. However, they preferred to remain anonymous.

According to Pablo Avendano, USAS president, the completed report will be presented to the Faculty Senate.

"FIU does not have the time or the money to conduct this report. Other universities even sent people to India to investigate coke's operations. Since FIU can't do this, we are asking students to help us conduct the investigation," Garcia said.

As part of the new committee's efforts, Leon and Camilo Silva, president of the Student Government Council at the Biscayne Bay Campus, signed and sent a letter to the company's headquarters, located in Atlanta, Ga, Feb. 21.

The letter invites Coke to send a representative to a public forum at FIU and answer questions on the student's allegations before the contract opens for revision. The letter also asks that the forum take place sometime in March, preferably March 13 or 14. Leon explained during the SGA meeting that the report should be completed before the bidding begins because only financial questions and advantages will be discussed during the meeting, so it is up to the students to question the company's practices. FIU is not the first university to question Coke's operations abroad. The University of Michigan has suspended all Coke sales on its campus until a third party confirms that Coke has had no involvement in questionable practices.

According to a fact sheet sent to The Beacon by Kirsten Witt, a Coca-Cola representative, the company has conducted business with Colombia for 70 years.

"For as long as we've been in Colombia, Coca-Cola has supported programs that aid children, promote education, and bring relief to victims of the country's ongoing conflict," the document said. "Earlier this year, we provided $10 million to start the Colombian Foundation for Education and Opportunity, an organization that addresses the needs of victims of violence."

The document also says that judicial inquiries performed in a Colombian court and another by the Colombian Attorney General found a lack of evidence to support allegations that bottler managements intimidated trade unionists.

"Over the past several decades, Colombia has experience much internal conflict, which affects trade union leaders in many industries and other people from all walks of life. Despite the volatile environment, the Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers have maintained operations and have worked to provide safe, stable economic opportunities for the people of Colombia," one of the document's bullet points said.

It also made clear that products manufactured in Colombia are meant for consumption in that country and are not exported to the U.S.

For more information on the committee, contact SGA at the Graham Center, room 211.

For information on the Coca-Cola's foreign policy, visit cokefacts.com

-Additional reporting by C. Joel Marino, Beacon staff

~ Below is the letter sent to the Coca-Cola Company by SGA ~

To Whom It May Concern,

We, the Student Government Association of Florida International University, along with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), would like for the Coca-Cola Company to address some concerns that have been raised by United Students Against Sweatshops about the company's labor, environmental, and human rights practices abroad.

It has been brought to our attention that the Coca-Cola company stands accused of complicity in the murder of trade unionists in Colombia by paramilitary groups, environmental devastation in India, and violation of workers rights in Turkey and Indonesia.

We are also aware that our universities beverage contract with the Coca-Cola Company is up for review this year. We are currently working on forming a committee to study the information compiled by the Killer Coke campaign as well as the Coca-Cola Company.

Seeing as how both sides provide a significant amount of information, and our time is limited, we would like to invite the Coca-Cola Company to a forum at FIU being organized by SGA and USAS for the purpose of having both sides answer some crucial questions.

We are trying to schedule the event sometime in March - preferably the 13th or the 14th of the month. We would greatly appreciate if a representative from the Coca-Cola Company agreed to attend, since your attendance would be paramount in helping us, the Student Government Association, to adopt a position that would be most beneficial to our student body, and university.

Please respond to us as soon as possible to let us know if this event is something the Coca-Cola Company would be interested in participating.

Sincerely,

Alfonso Leon, SGC President, University Park 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.