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Universities take up the Coca-Cola Boycott Challenge

An update from a British supporter:

Leeds University kicked off the most recent spate of solidarity with a debate between Killer-Coke and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign. Despite sending their chief apologist in the form of Rafael Fernandez, head of public relations for Latin America, Coke was unable to deny its murderous activities in Colombia, rather concentrated on trying to justify the killings by claiming that members of Sinaltrainal trade union were dangerous revolutionaries linked to the guerrilla. The debate was followed by an emergency general meeting, where students voted overwhelmingly that Coke is an unethical company. Due to the problems associated with implementing the boycott, Leeds voted to put a motion to the NUS demanding that they break their exclusive contract with Coke. In the meantime, all outlets selling Coke at Leeds University must carry a poster outlining Coke's crimes in Colombia and India.

Meanwhile across the water in Belfast, Queens University Student Council meeting held on 25 November passed the following motions after weeks of hard campaigning:

"This council supports the Colombian trade union's call for a worldwide boycott of Coca-Cola, until Coca-Cola apologises to, and compensates the families of the Coca-Cola employees who were murdered, because they were members of the trade union employed by Coca-Cola in its bottling plant in Colombia. Moreover, the Coca-Cola boycott will only be removed when Coca-Cola recognises the human rights of workers in Colombia to belong to a trade union of the own choice free from the threat of murder/terror."

The council placed the boycott into immediate affect.

Students at Middlesex University had to gather 1000 signatures in order to have a referendum called on the contract with Coca-Cola. Once that had been done, just in time to coincide with sabbatical elections, the university's first ever referendum was scheduled for December 6th - 8th 2004, with the following question put to students: "Do you want the student union shops to stop selling Coca-Cola products?"

The 'Yes' campaign went to work on producing leaflets and posters that highlighted Coke's abuses around the world, building on work over the previous year that had involved writing articles for the student magazine, holding stalls in the cafeteria, and stickering just about everywhere anyone was likely to look (especially Coke machines!). After three days of hard campaigning, opposed by a sabbatical candidate from the business school (who believed, presumably, that corporations should be allowed to do whatever they please in pursuit of profits), but buoyed by the overwhelming positive response (and high level of awareness) of students across the schools, the 'Yes' campaign emerged victorious. Another kick in the corporate cojones for Killer Coke.

Most recently, students turned out in force at Bristol Students Union AGM to vote to boycott Killer Coke. The motions opposers were more worried about their freedom of choice to be able to drink what they wanted and what would replace it than the accusations against Coke. This was easy to rebuff as the boycott isn't about not drinking Coke ever again (though I won't); it's about putting pressure on the right people for the right reasons. Union (and us) missed the deadline for the NUSSL motion, though, learnt our lesson not to relax the pressure and to read emails every day otherwise you can miss something really important. But at least Bristol is now boycotting Coke.

At their AGM on 12 February, the Stop the War Coalition voted unanimously to boycott Coke, due to their activities in Colombia and India, and for their support for the Republican Party in the USA and its policy of eternal war.

One piece of news that has gone unnoticed for the last 18 months, is that the German VERDI trade union, with 4 million members (the biggest union in the world apparently) voted at their autumn 2003 Conference to boycott Coca-Cola due to their activities in Colombia.

However, we have all been outdone by the Venezuelan government, who shut down 32 Coca-Cola distribution centres on 16 February while they investigate the extent of the multinational's tax evasion.

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