The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Michigan drops ban; Coke agrees to investigation

By Matt Won

The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor announced Tuesday that it would resume the sale of Coca-Cola products on its campus, which had been suspended on January 1 this year.

It is unclear what effect this will have on the decision by Macalester’s Social Responsibility Committee (SRC) to recommend that President Rosenberg adopt a similar ban.

Michigan’s decision could be particularly influential, as the University’s behavior thus far has informed the SRC’s decisions. The SRC’s rationale for its decision specifically cited Coca-Cola’s letter to Michigan’s Board of Regents, in which the company outlined steps it would take, including an impartial investigation into its conduct in Colombia, as well as a worldwide environmental practices audit, including the company’s Indian bottling division.

Labor advocates and others involved with the Coke issue have decried the decision as premature. “Coca-Cola’s recent announcement strikes me as a constructive response to the pressures mounted by groups like SLAC and colleges like Macalester, and it would be strategically counterproductive to lift this pressure until positive changes in corporate behavior can be verified,” SRC member and History Professor Rachleff said.

The United Nations International Labor Organization last week accepted a joint offer by Coca-Cola and the International Union of Food workers to conduct the investigation that Coca-Cola had promised. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a nonprofit, will audit Coca-Cola’s water stewardship in India.

The SRC voted on March 1 to recommend that Macalester join over 20 colleges, including New York University and Michigan, in banning Coca-Cola to publicly pressure the company into investigating and reforming its labor and environmental practices. Allegations against the company centered around the deaths of Coca-Cola union leaders in Colombia and the company’s contamination and drainage of water supplies in India.

The SRC’s next scheduled meeting is May 3, and there is no consensus on whether a special meeting might be called in light of these developments.

“I think that would be one option where the President might say in light of new information, SRC, would you like to have this discussion again,' and it seems to me that that is likely," said Laurie Hamre, Dean of Students and nonvoting member of the SRC.<br /><br /><br /><br /> <br /><br />SRC member and Psychology Department Coordinator Mary Claire Schultz said a meeting before May 3 seems unlikely because "It's very difficult to schedule a meeting with everyone's schedules."<br /><br /><br /><br /> <br /><br />While the SRC has not formally reconvened, and at this point there are no plans to do so, many members of the SRC are aware of Michigan's decision, which was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education. <br /><br /> <br /><br />"Coca-Cola's recent announcement and the University of Michigan's decision to allow the sale of Coke products on campus does not change my personal position at all. I continue to have numerous concerns: I do not know what this proposedindependent’ inspection in Colombia will entail,” Rachleff said.

The SRC has heard and read arguments by Macalester’s Student Labor Action Coalition of allegations on Coca-Cola in several other countries. The ILO investigation will only look into allegations in Colombia.

“The investigation of Coca-Cola’s labor and environmental practices has turned up other issues in other places—India, Indonesia, Turkey—which seem to me are of considerable concern, especially when taken in conjunction with Coca-Cola’s track record of avoiding responsibility for the labor and employment practices of its contractors, subsidiaries, and business associates in Colombia,” Rachleff said.

President Rosenberg has not yet made a decision on whether or not to take action on the SRC’s recommendation to ban Coke, and has not communicated with SRC members on another potential meeting.

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