NYU and U Michigan drop Coke contract

By Patricia Bass

After the Coca-Cola Company failed to address a New York University resolution giving it until Dec. 8, 2005 to agree upon an independent investigation into human rights abuses in Colombia, NYU decided to move ahead with its Coke ban. Starting Dec. 9, NYU pulled all Coca-Cola products, including Dasani and Minute Maid brands, and removed each of the 86 Coca-Cola vending machines on campus by the start of the new semester. The ban is the result of two years of student campaigning.

While NYU cited human rights abuses in Colombia as the main reason for banning Coca-Cola, the University of Michigan, another institution that recently banned Coke, also accused the company of draining water tables and contaminating ground soil in India.

Its suspension of Coca-Cola products began Jan. 1, 2006, and will affect $1.4 million worth of contracts with the Coca-Cola Company.

Despite Macalester students’ past protests and voiced ethical concerns against Coca-Cola, Macalester has not banned the company’s products. But last summer the Social Responsibility Committee decided to let the exclusive contract with the company expire, allowing other Coca-Cola competitors on campus. According to former committee chair and mathematic professor Danny Kaplan, the committee decided to let Coca-Cola products remain on campus due to the “poor credibility” of the human rights abuses claims.

“The committee felt the statements were sufficiently ungrounded that it would be irresponsible to completely renege the contract,” Kaplan said. “No one will ever know what happened because it is impossible to do an independent investigation in Colombia, especially on a murder that happened eight years ago.” Grounded or ungrounded, student activists still find the charges against the Coca-Cola Company enough to merit completely banning their products from campus. “The biggest problem was that they weren’t making it easy for human rights investigations to occur,” activist and committee member Sandy Robson ’08 said. “The one firm that Coke allowed to investigate their practices has a history with big-business and over-looking incriminating activity.”

The Student Labor Action Coalition at Macalester (SLAC) also has pledged to continue work until the on-campus ban is complete. “In light of new and mounting evidence of abuse of human rights in many countries around the world, not only Colombia, SLAC plans to ask Macalester College to cease selling Coke products on campus,” said Erik Forman ’08, member of SLAC. Forman said the committee’s decision to keep Coke on campus was “ideologically motivated…as if ours wasn’t.”

Student activists hope that the Coke bans at NYU and Michigan may spark enthusiasm for further action at Macalester.