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
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
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
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.