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There Is No Anti-Coke Movement

By Rob Helmuth
Issue: 4/4/06
The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut)
Original article by subscription

There have now been two articles in The Daily Campus criticizing what they call the "Anti-Coke" movement. There is no such movement, although many seem to oppose it. One can only assume that they are referring to Students for Corporate Accountability's campaign to convince the university to end its contract with Coca Cola. That they disagree with the campaign is fine, but The Daily Campus articles significantly misrepresent its goals and motivation. The campaign is not "anti-Coke," nor is it "anti-corporate," "anti-capitalist," or "liberals" with "rage." So, a question to the authors, and anyone else in opposition: How can you oppose something you do not understand?

Though some seem to think so, it is not a political issue; support is welcome from anyone who values human life and our future on the planet. The cause is not anti-capitalist, no one is trying to put Coca Cola out of business. One article calls our campaign a waste of time. President Philip Austin doesn't think so. According to a representative, he is very concerned with the seriousness of the allegations and considers it a critical issue. His Committee on Sweatshop Labor is currently investigating the matter and will recommend further action, likely later this semester.

The campaign is accused of having a huge number of unreasonable demands of the company. Not true. There is one demand, and it is simple: stop doing business with people who deliberately violate human rights, the environment and ethics-regardless of whether it makes you money.

Coca Cola representative Ed Potter (whose article was also in The Daily Campus) denies any connection to the atrocities. However, when the workers are producing and delivering Coca Cola, wearing Coca Cola uniforms, it becomes hard to deny a connection. When they are told they must resign from their union or face death after one of their co-workers, Isidro Gil, was gunned down during his shift at the Coca Cola bottling plant by paramilitaries who work for the plant managers...it becomes hard to deny a connection. When Austin's committee receives e-mails in support of Coca Cola supposedly from Colombian workers who somehow heard that the UConn administration was dealing with the issue (I guess they read The Daily Campus?) AND got a hold of the members' contact info — even though, according to Coca Cola, they are not Coca Cola employees — it becomes ridiculous to deny a connection. In a recent meeting with the Committee, Mr. Potter was questioned about this perplexing situation, and was — GASP! — unable to explain.

Coca Cola and their supporters would have you believe that this is simply a Colombian problem. Then why do similar events happen at their plants in Turkey, Indonesia and India? Money. Fearful workers make less money than organized workers do. Implementing a worldwide system to protect their workers and the environment costs more than some overtime for their public relations staff. Coca Cola will tell you they have no control over these plants, that they do not own them — this is only partially true; they simply do not own a majority share. Also, imagine a foreign bottling plant changing the cans they use to blue — think Coca Cola would let that slide? Coca Cola forced the owners of a plant in Guatemala to sell it after public outcry over worker abuse in 1983. Indifference became too costly, and they exerted their power. This is our goal — to increase the cost of inaction and give corporate leaders incentive to put people's lives ahead of their own finances.

One Daily Campus article argues, "... it is the responsibility of the ... government to impose restrictions upon corporations that abuse the people," not the company's responsibility to keep from abusing its workers in the first place. President George W. Bush disagrees: "Tougher laws and stricter requirements will help. It will help. Yet, ultimately, the ethics of American business depend on the conscience of America's business leaders."

The opposition has also expressed concern that our campaign will not solve the human rights problem in Colombia. We do not expect to. Although the campaign is identified as the sad state of activism at UConn, that's a more appropriate complaint directed at this attitude; if you can't fix the whole problem, why fix any of it — Hell, why bother trying? By that reasoning, we should never hold anyone responsible for any wrongdoing, because crime will still exist. It's the most brilliant defense ever! 'Your honor, why throw this thief in jail? Surely someone else will steal from us anyway.'

At least some criticism has been constructive: the most recent Daily Campus article suggested we "Bring the Colombian government before the U.N." However, it fails to mention what influence the University of Connecticut has over the United Nations. I'm not aware of any, but I'll let them get back to us on that. Meanwhile, SCA will continue to work with the administration to effect real change in the world.

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