The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News November 19, 2004

College set to ban Coca-Cola
Beverages are banned over labor concerns

The College has decided to immediately stop selling Coca-Cola products based on the recommendation of the College Purchasing Committee. The ban is based on the company’s human and labor rights violations.

In a letter written by College President Nancy Dye to the Purchasing Committee, she stated that “College Dining Services as well as the Oberlin College Inn [will] discontinue use and sale of Coca-Cola products in all food services as well as vending machines.”

According to College sophomore Sarah Bishop, chair of the Purchasing Committee, “The boycott will take place soon; we don’t yet know the exact date. Nancy Dye just wrote a letter to the CEO of Coke about the decision, and Coke wants to come meet with the College to try to convince us not to do it. I believe, but am not positive, that the boycott will take place after we listen to their side of the story.”

The Purchasing Committee is a group comprised of students, faculty, administration and local business owners that are dedicated to maintaining the College’s “sweatshop-free” policy.

Committee member and politics professor Chris Howell stated that the committee was organized five years ago when it sent a list of demands to Dye and has worked since then to make sure all products utilized by the College are “sweatshop-free.”

Before the Purchasing Committee met during spring semester of last year to discuss the allegations against Coca-Cola, a public forum was organized where members of the Oberlin community gathered to express concerns. Specifically, members of the Student Labor Action Committee (SLAC) met to talk with the Purchasing Committee to express their feelings about the allegations.

“The Coke boycott, at heart, is an issue of horrible human rights and labor rights violations by the Coca-Cola Company,” College junior and SLAC member Anne Misak said. “I feel that it is very important to stand up for human rights and be in solidarity with the union members in Colombia who have called for this boycott and with labor movements around the world. If the Coke boycott succeeds, it will show that it is possible for labor activists and consumers to stand up to multi-million dollar transnational corporations and win in the struggle for human rights and equitable l

abor practices.”

Misak worked last semester setting up tables outside of Wilder to raise awareness in the student body.

College sophomore Susanna Duncan, a fellow SLAC member, worked to bring Luis Cardona, a former union leader from the Coca-Cola union in Colombia, SINALTRAL, to speak about his personal experience of persecution by the management of the Coca-Cola bottling plant at which he worked.

SLAC also organized an informal debate and discussion with students, faculty and other members of the Oberlin community about the proposal to have the College join the Coke boycott.

After the public forum meeting, the Purchasing Committee decided to join with other institutions to investigate the company at the end of the semester.

According to Howell, the committee usually only handles apparel and, as such, was not fully equipped to deal with the particular situation.

In response, the Worker Right Consortium, a national anti-sweatshop organization that works as an agent for many colleges and universities to investigate these types of issues, was called.

However, Coca-Cola proved to be uncooperative.

“The next three months were overly frustrating. [Coca-Cola] refused to meet with the WRC to talk about it [the allegations]”, Howell said. “[Coca-Cola] agreed to talk individually and claimed no responsibility. They point blank refused to cooperate and at the end of August the Purchasing Committee wrote a document and voted to send it to Nancy Dye.”

This letter was a recommendation by the committee for the boycott of Coca-Cola products based on facts that Coca-Cola has either worked with the paramilitary to assassinate labor leaders in Columbia or has turned a “blind eye” to these actions.

The letter specifically states that “close to 400 union members have been murdered...and there have been numerous death threats, acts of kidnapping and other violence against Coca-Cola unionized employees.”

Bishop believes this is why there should be a campus-wide ban of Coca-Cola.

“I believe that it is vital that we do everything we can to support fair labor practices, and Coke was a clear human-rights violation,” she said. “As a college that prides itself on supporting social justice and equality, we need to be aware of the labor practices of companies we use and be accountable for them. Banning Coke is one way we can be more accountable.”

Duncan added that she “personally believe[s] that the boycott has a great deal of symbolic power as a way to pressure the Coca-Cola company to pursue an investigation into the murders and persecution of leaders from the Colombian Coca-Cola union, as well as make a commitment to ensuring that international labor and human rights regulations are enforced at all of their bottling plants around the world.”

In addition, Duncan feels that since colleges like Oberlin “have a tremendous amount of purchasing power, it is important that they utilize that power to hold corporation that have dealings with the College accountable to just labor standards.”

Dye wrote that the boycott will continue, “until the Purchasing Committee recommends otherwise.”


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