Revisit Reasons Behind Coke Ban
The University of Michigan reinstated its contracts with Coca-Cola on April 10 based on the fact that the company has agreed to allow an investigation by the International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations. Coca-Cola has also granted ILO the authority to publish or withhold specific investigation results. Now that an independent investigation will be taking place, Oberlin College also needs to reconsider its ban of the Coca-Cola products.
When the College decided to ban Coca-Cola products, it did so as a form of protest in large part because the company refused to permit a third party investigation into its labor practices. Instead, it hired its own investigators, and refused to acknowledge that such investigations possessed a conflict of interest. Representatives of Oberlin College at a meeting with Coca-Cola in Washington D.C. on May 6 of last year emphasized the necessity of an impartial investigation, with a particular focus on Colombia and the alleged murders of union leaders. College President Nancy Dye’s letter to Coca-Cola executives explaining the ban indicated that the company’s failure to hold an independent investigation was paramount to Oberlin’s ban decision.
Now that Coca-Cola has consented to an ILO investigation into labor practices in Colombia and India, Oberlin should reconsider, even if not necessarily revoke, its ban of Coca-Cola products. The College must consider whether its demands have been met, or whether it should wait for an ILO declaration that Coca-Cola is in fact engaging in sound labor practices. In other words, the College must choose between reinstating its Coca-Cola contract — thus supporting the requested third party investigation — or continuing to protest Coca-Cola’s labor practices until the outcome of the investigation is known.
That said, it is also essential that the College recognize student opinion in any dialogue considering the Coca-Cola ban. At first even the College’s initial decision to ban Coca-Cola, although later validated by a majority student referendum vote in favor of continuing the ban, was heavily criticized because the College did not first turn to the students. Similarly, some University of Michigan students are now outraged that their College has reinstated its contract within 24 hours of its receipt of Coca-Cola’s letter regarding the ILO investigation without first consulting the student body (according to www.umich.edu/~coke/). Hopefully, in Oberlin the administration will take this opportunity to consider student voice before taking action.
There of course may still be reasons that the College and the Purchasing
Committee would want to continue to ban Coca-Cola. Even though Coca-Cola has
consented to the requested independent investigation, there are no guarantees
that this investigation will substantiate the company’s claims to
following acceptable labor practices in Colombia. However, if the
College’s true intent was to procure the third party investigation into
Coca-Cola’s labor practice, then the symbolic power of this ban has been
articulated; the College has seen its goals achieved, and should reconsider in
an open discussion this particular ban on Coca-Cola products.