By Carissa Miller | Michigan Daily | , Michigan Daily January 21, 2005
While awaiting the University's response to its wage disclosure campaign, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality hopes to rally other student groups on campus to gain support for the Killer Coke campaign, an effort to pressure the University to cut its ties with the Coca-Cola company for alleged human-rights violations.
Last year, SOLE organized an ongoing protest with the goal of pressuring the University to disclose the wages paid to workers by companies it has contacts with. In December, members of SOLE held a demonstration accusing the University of using sweatshops to manufacture clothing carrying the University's name.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University's Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights is handling the University's work on these issues. "President Mary Sue Coleman feels that this is a valid issue, but she also feels that the advisory committee is the proper mechanism for moving forward," Peterson said.
Lisa Stowe, a member of the committee, said it is moving forward on its labor standards work. "We are conversing with and working through external organizations, like the Fair Labor Association and the Workers' Rights Consortium, to deal with our licensees," Stowe said. "We have also drafted a letter to President Coleman that outlines our strategy."
Jory Hearst, a member of SOLE, said the group is now working on building an alliance with like-minded organizations for the Killer Coke campaign. "Amnesty International and Environmental Justice have already joined the effort," Hearst said. He added that SOLE is also in the process of drafting a proposal to the Michigan Student Assembly to show that students support ethical purchasing decisions at the University and hopes to offer the proposal by the first week of February.
Hearst explained that the University's Code of Conduct for licensees — which applies to all vendors and their subcontractors — demands that the companies with which they do business adhere to certain human-rights standards. But Hearst said that because Coca-Cola subcontractors, such as Panamco, have broken the basic humanitarian rights of workers in Colombia, the company is in breach of four areas of its contract with the University: health and safety, nondiscrimination, abuse and harassment and freedom of association.
At a panel discussion Wednesday on labor rights in Latin America, an event that was part of this year's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium, Hearst discussed the alleged human-rights violations committed by Coca-Cola's subcontractors. "The root of the Killer Coke campaign lies in the number of union leaders killed in Colombia, eight in the past 15 years, and (the) many more examples of harassment, torture and abuse," Hearst said. "Colombian workers and union members of SINALTRAINAL, (their union) have asked for students to be active in this campaign, which is why we are working on it."
Lauren Heidtke, another member of SOL E, said the group is asking the University to not do business with Coca-Cola until it upholds the code of conduct by taking action against the alleged human-rights violations of their subcontractors. "We feel that Coca-Cola is responsible, and that is why the University should act," Heidtke said. "SOLE is asking MSA to vote in favor of the University not renewing their contract."
Though SOLE's MSA proposal focuses on workers in Colombia, it also mentions other areas where reports of violations by Coca-Cola and its subcontractors have appeared, such as Africa and India.
In addition to its efforts with the Killer Coke Campaign, this semester SOLE hopes to promote student involvement in the national SweatFree Communities Campaign. SweatFree tries to guarantee that all apparel and products bearing the University's name were not produced in sweatshops. "Part of last year's efforts was to get the University to ask licensees to disclose the wages they pay their workers," Heidtke said. "They never gave any information and we are still asking for that. This effort is now part of the SweatFree campaign."
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