A growing student movement yet to hit GW is attempting to stop Coca-Cola Company products from being sold on campus because of the company’s alleged human rights abuses.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, a grassroots organization based in New York, has reached 90 campuses worldwide and is encouraging colleges to eliminate their contracts with the beverage company. The campaign hopes to get Coca-Cola to address allegations against them and change their labor practices after enough campuses withdraw from Coke’s market.
The campaign began after U.S. labor groups filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola in 2001 on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, the union that protects bottlers in Colombian factories. Union members charged that Coca-Cola contracted with the country’s paramilitary security forces, which later murdered, tortured and unlawfully detained trade union leaders.
Six universities in the United States – Bard College in New York, Carleton College in Minnesota, College of DuPage in Illinois, Lake Forest College in Illinois, Oberlin College in Ohio and Salem State College in Massachusetts – along with five in Western Europe and Canada have terminated their contracts with the Coca-Cola Company.
Coke responded to calls for campus boycotts and the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke by denying the allegations and saying that they treat all of their employees “with fairness, dignity and respect.”
“Given the local nature and the purpose of the Coca-Cola business, we believe that calls for boycotts of our products are not the appropriate way to further any cause, as they primarily hurt the local economy, local businesses and local citizens,” the company said in a statement.
The Fair Labor Organizing Committee at Bard College decided to end its contract with Coca-Cola in 2003 after nearly two years of dialogue with the company and no results. As a part of Bard’s policy, all companies they deal with must sign a code of conduct holding them to a high standard of business ethics, which they said Coca-Cola’s labor practices violated. Fall 2004 was the first semester Bard’s campus venues did not serve Coca-Cola.
Gus Feldman, a student activist who was involved in the campaign at Bard, said the anti-Coke movement was based upon the allegations in Colombia but intensified after evidence of poor environmental practices by the company in India emerged. Coca-Cola is accused of causing water shortages after extracting large amounts of common groundwater for its facilities.
“India surfaced later on and pushed our whole relationship with Coca-Cola over the edge,” he said. “We realized we had to take action.”
“We (rid) this campus of Coca-Cola with the hope that it would spread to other campuses,” Feldman added. “Bard is a small college and we knew that it alone couldn’t affect the Coca-Cola Company. Bard is a very small market for them.”
Ray Rogers, the campaign’s director, said that “any campus, large or small” that bans Coca-Cola is a victory. He said he expects three major U.S. colleges – Rutgers University, the University of Michigan and New York University – to end their contracts with Coca-Cola in the near future. NYU’s student senate voted down a ban on Coke in early March.
“Rutgers is one of the largest contracts that Coke has,” he said. “No campus that prides itself as being a center of ethics and morality should be lending its name, logo and credibility to Coca-Cola or serve as a marketplace for its sales and advertising.”
Rogers said his campaign is also looking to get more active at Georgetown University, where the student body has expressed interest in the campaign. Although GW does have a contract with Coca-Cola, Rogers said that no one from the University has contacted the campaign to invite them to campus.
“Washington D.C. is a critical area to have a strong campaign,” Rogers said. “GW is certainly a prestigious university and we think that it wouldn’t be very happy with the way Coke conducts business.”
GW Progressive Student Union president Alexandra Freedman said the anti-Coke campaign is something that the organization supports but does not think is plausible to pursue in Foggy Bottom.
“We’re not sure whether or not this campaign would work at GW because of the way GW works administratively, which is very different than surrounding campuses in the District,” Freedman said.
She added, “At Georgetown you’re talking about a higher percentage of students who are interested in seeing a change in the capitalist network instead of just achieving a Band-aid solution.”