Swarthmore Protests Coke

Human rights concerns drive partial removal of Coke products from dining halls

CORRECTION APPENDED

Swarthmore College joined 10 other schools last week in taking measures to reduce the supply of Coca-Cola products on its campus.

According to a Feb. 15 statement, Swarthmore will remove Coca-Cola beverages from some of its dining facilities in response to allegations that the company has violated the human rights of its workers in Colombia.

Meanwhile, some Harvard students have raised similar concerns about these charges against Coca-Cola and about the company’s contracts with Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS).

Swarthmore’s decision represents a major victory for Kick Coke, an on-campus chapter of a national movement that accuses Coca-Cola of tacitly supporting paramilitary violence against union activists in Colombia.

This assertion, along with claims that Coca-Cola stood by while its workers suffered 179 human rights violations and nine murders at the hands of paramilitary groups, is documented in a 2004 report by the New York City Fact-Finding Delegation on Coca-Cola in Colombia, a seven-member group of local officials, union leaders, and students.

Citing these reports, as well as evidence that Coca-Cola has devastated the environment near its bottling plants in India, Swarthmore student activists lobbied for the passage of a Student Council resolution calling for administrative action. Students also circulated a petition that garnered hundreds of signatures.

In addition, Kick Coke members worked “with and not against the administration” throughout the campaign, according to student organizer Zoe Bridges-Curry.

But unlike New York University and the University of Michigan, the last two universities to take action against Coca-Cola, Swarthmore’s administration stopped short of eliminating the contract by which Coca-Cola supplies the college dining hall’s soda fountains.

Although Bridges-Curry said that Kick Coke will continue to lobby for the termination of Swarthmore’s Coca-Cola contract, which will expire in 2007, she hailed the college’s action as “an important first step in terms of indicating that Coke has to be accountable for its actions abroad.”

To that end, the Swarthmore administration has called for “an independent investigation of the allegations against Coca-Cola,” Swarthmore’s vice president for college and community relations, Maurice Eldridge, wrote in an e-mail.

While the Kick Coke movement has gained national momentum, plans among Harvard students to demand the removal of Coca-Cola products from the University’s dining facilities have only recently surfaced.

A member of Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), Jamila R. Martin ’07, said that her group intends to spearhead such an effort.

“This is definitely something that we are looking into and really interested in, something that we’ll be starting soon,” she said.

She said that Harvard students had been muted in their response to Coca-Cola’s alleged abuses because of a “lull and loss of momentum” following a wave of student activism on campus.

In the spring of 2001, Harvard students occupied Mass. Hall to demand a “living wage” for University workers.

From 1998 to 2003, students also lobbied the University to ensure that Harvard apparel wasn’t manufactured under sweatshop conditions.

Students also helped sway HUDS to place fair trade bananas in dining halls starting in January 2004.

HUDS maintains three contracts with Coca-Cola and its subsidiary, Odwalla. Two are set to expire this year, and a third lasts until 2009.

HUDS spokeswoman Jami M. Snyder wrote in an e-mail that she could not comment on the allegations against Coca-Cola or the size of Harvard’s contracts with the company because she did not want to jeopardize the relationship between Harvard and Coke. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW.]

A member of the HUDS Student Advisory Committee, Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06, wrote in an e-mail that the committee has “at no point...been involved in discussions about the contracts that HUDS has with Coca-Cola. Nor have we investigated conditions in India or Colombia.”

“It is not an issue near the top of our agenda,” Chadbourne wrote.

CORRECTION

The Feb. 24 news article, "Swarthmore Protests Coke," incompletely stated Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) spokeswoman Jami M.  Snyder's reasons for not commenting on the size of HUDS contracts with Coca-Cola. Snyder said that confidentiality provisions in HUDS contracts with its
vendors legally prohibit her from disclosing price information. That fact was not included in the Feb. 24 article.

Also, due to an editing error, the same article implied that Snyder spoke for Harvard as a whole. In fact, she spoke only for HUDS, not the entire University.

Also, the article incorrecly stated that Snyder declined to comment on allegations that Coca Cola committed human rights abuses because "she did not want to jeopardize" relations with Coke. In fact, according to Snyder, HUDS has a policy of not commenting on allegations against any of its
vendors.

The Crimson regrets the errors.