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Coke should be kicked off campus

By Jose Pagliery
Graphic by Jon Roberts/The Beacon
The Beacon, Read by Subscription
March 29, 2007

Given that Florida International University holds one of the highest Hispanic populations in the country at 56 percent, it may be surprising to find that such little attention has yet been given to the movement that seeks to rid Coca Cola as the sole proprietor of soft drinks on campus, but that may soon change.

The "Killer Coke" campaign, led by United Students Against Sweatshops, sheds light on allegations of human rights abuses in Colombia, an issue that at first glance seems to affect Latin Americans abroad.

But despite efforts over recent months to promote awareness, some students have seemed comatose to the issue at hand.

No questioning, no responses, no pulse. There has existed little debate on either side outside USAS itself, much to the surprise of those who expect FIU to be a spearhead with international issues that relate to our neighbors in the southern hemisphere.

The cause of the silence is disappointing, as many have placed USAS alongside senseless activist groups searching for attention without reading the material. However, the group may have something here.

The claims against Coke show a degree of legitimacy. As reported by the American Anthropological Association in 2004, Coke's bottling plant companies have been in collusion with local right-wing paramilitaries with hopes to dissolve unionizing of factory workers.

Hired to assassinate union leaders in order to terrorize potential union workers, paramilitaries have murdered eight union leaders and tortured or kidnapped hundreds of workers.

Given that these plants are under Coke's commercial umbrella, many in Colombia consider the company responsible for the implementation of lethal force.

Surprisingly, Coke refuses to allow for independent investigations of their bottling plants, forcing groups like the AAA to conduct secret interviews with workers who are put at risk by speaking to them in the first place.

In response, Coca Cola was removed from the Broad Market Social Index of KLD Research and Analytics Inc. on ethical grounds.

The highly respected TIAA-CREF, a $380 billion financial services group, then banned the company from their Social Choice Account.

To call USAS "radicals" as some have is a misnomer. The issue at hand shows a measure of validity - making SGA's refusal to give the issue sufficient attention even worse.

Despite continuous efforts on the group's part to work with SGA, much has failed. Both agreed to form a joint committee to investigate the claims, but the few representatives who agreed to assist the group have shown little interest in the matter.

Considering the significance of the claims against the company that provides all of FIU's soft drinks, one would hope the matter would be given much more consideration.

But while University administrators have yet to pay attention to the issue at hand, it is SGA who holds the responsibility to help students communicate with those in charge-something not being done.

Despite a 600-signature petition and multiple public presentations, USAS has yet to meet with administrators.

Their requests are both fair and justifiable: investigate the matter, and if something is found, make the ethical decision and switch soft drink sponsors.

To say that switching sponsors takes away the consumer's freedom of choice ignores the fact that there was no freedom to begin with - FIU is a Coca-Cola campus.

But the time to deal with this issue in an acceptable manner is running out. Trying various channels of communication, the group has found nothing but a dial tone on each.

They have been waiting patiently for months, but pushing against the current has been wearing their patience thin. It may be in the interest of administrators to deal with the issue before it lands on their doorstep, and it is SGA's responsibility to bring them the message.

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.