Students across Canada are calling on universities not to renew contracts with Coca-Cola.
The students’ efforts are part of an international campaign aimed at raising awareness about the corporation’s poor human rights, labour and environmental record in countries like India and Colombia.
Campaigners cite reports that workers and union leaders at Coca-Cola’s operations in Colombia have been targeted by paramilitaries. Since 1989, seven union leaders who worked at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia and one union-friendly plant manager have been murdered and countless other employees have reportedly been threatened with death, kidnapped and tortured.
In February, union leaders working at Coke’s bottling plant in Bucaramanga, Colombia, were warned by a paramilitary group they would be tortured and killed if they did not stop criticizing the company. Union leaders received similar threats in December 2006.
In India, there are widespread allegations that Coca-Cola’s voracious use of water in its bottling plants is depleting local groundwater tables and threatening surrounding farming communities. Coke is also accused of contaminating water supplies and distributing toxic sludge from the bottling plants to local farmers under the guise of fertilizer. In two Indian communities, the state government has ordered the company to stop distributing solid waste containing cadmium and lead to farmers around its bottling facilities.
Students want the giant beverage company to admit to alleged abuses, have independent third-party investigations into allegations, compensate those affected and adopt a global code of conduct.
At the University of Waterloo, students hope to convince administrators not to renew a contract with Coke set to expire this summer.
“Ours is a relatively young campaign,” said Miriam Papps, a third-year Spanish student and a member of UW’s Students Against Sweatshops. “Our focus is on raising awareness about the facts and demonstrating that these are legitimate concerns.”
Using an idea borrowed from University of Ottawa students, the group placed a trail of paper footprints from a vending machine to an information booth in the student centre.
“We’re also reaching out to professors who might support our work by adding their voices to our campaign,” Papps said.
At McMaster University, the student group Campus Choice is trying to convince administrators to terminate a longtime contract that gives Coke a monopoly on campus. That contract is also up for renewal
Kings University College students used demonstrations, petitions and local media coverage to pressure university administrators to ask Aramark, King’s food distributor, to provide alternative beverage choices. Students say this is a good first step, but are continuing their campaign for an outright ban.
“Our goal is to clear King’s of all beverages provided by the Coca-Cola company,” the anti-coke group there said in a press release.
At the University of Guelph, students will vote soon on a referendum asking them to support a switch to an “alternative ethical beverage supplier.”
A freedom of information request filed by the Eyeopener — the Ryerson University student newspaper — revealed Coca-Cola pays the university $765,000 to keep its competitor, Pepsi-Cola, and its products, off campus. The five-year exclusivity deal, signed in 2004, helps the school pay off its capital debt and fund scholarships and athletic bursaries.
Ryerson campaigners are circulating a petition urging the administration to reconsider its deal with Coke.
Coca-Cola has set up a public relations web site (www.cokefacts.com
) to refute allegations of labour, human rights and environmental abuses.For more information on the students’ international campaign, visit www.studentsagainstsweatshops.org.