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U. of Michigan Becomes 10th College to Join Boycott of Coke

Issue: 12/31/05
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The New York Times

When students at the University of Michigan return to campus next week after the holiday break, they will find the Coke machines and fountain dispensers empty.

The university, which has 50,000 students on three campuses, on Thursday became the 10th college to stop selling Coca-Cola products because of concerns arising from accusations about the company's treatment of workers in bottling plants in Colombia and environmental problems in India.

A Coke spokeswoman, Kari Bjorhus, said yesterday in a statement that the company hoped the Michigan decision was temporary.

She said Coca-Cola was looking at ways to conduct an independent third-party study of the situation in Colombia.

Labor activists have said that Coca-Cola, through its Latin American bottlers, has been complicit in the deaths of eight union leaders and in continued harassment of unionized employees.

In India, a different group of activists have accused Coke of polluting the soil and groundwater near several bottling plants, of severely reducing groundwater levels in drought-prone areas and of failing to install adequate filtration systems that would remove pesticides from the water used to make its products.

The activists, led by two groups, Corporate Accountability International and the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, have found a sympathetic ear on college campuses.

Within the last year, New York University, Rutgers University in New Jersey and Santa Clara University in California, among others, have stopped selling Coke products, which include Sprite, Dasani water, Minute Maid juice and Powerade sports drinks.

Coke has denied all of the accusations. In April, the company announced the findings of a report by CSCC, a consulting firm in Los Angeles. The report, which was paid for by Coke, addressed current conditions, not the deaths, which occurred from 1989 to 2002. It found no violations or abuses of labor or human rights in Coke's bottling plants in Colombia.

Unsatisfied, the University of Michigan and five universities that still sell Coke products have called for an independent investigation of both the Colombia and India situations.

The University of Michigan had set today as a deadline for Coke to select an auditor and agree on the terms of the investigation. But talks between the company and the university broke down.

Coke says the accusations about India are groundless, also. It says that its use of water in India has become more efficient and that it has begun harvesting rainwater to help return it to underground sources.

In the fiscal year 2005, the University of Michigan had 13 contracts for selling Coca-Cola products, totaling $1.4 million. The university did not have an exclusive contract with Coke and it will continue to sell beverages from other companies.

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