Student Activists Demand University Cut Coca-Cola Ties To Stop ‘Supporting Human Rights Abuses’

Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) kicked off its spring “Right to Organize” campaign by delivering a letter to University President Lawrence H. Summers’ Mass. Hall office yesterday, demanding that Harvard take a stronger stance on worker unionization and stop all business with the Coca-Cola Company.

The letter—which was also sent to incoming interim president Derek C. Bok and Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow James R. Houghton ’58—also requested a meeting with Summers by March 23, “to confront these issues in respectful cooperation with the administration.”

The letter also marks the first time this semester that SLAM has publicly and officially outlined its goals, which include convincing the administration to discontinue contracting AlliedBarton Security Services until the company takes a neutral approach towards worker unionization.

“We’re trying to see that our university isn’t supporting human rights abuses with our money,” said Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07, one of SLAM’s leaders.

In the letter, SLAM accused AlliedBarton of “withholding pay for hours worked, suspending workers without cause, and targeting officers who are outspoken supporters of unionizing.”

Employees of AlliedBarton are not currently unionized.

SLAM also listed its grievances against Coke, which included the claim that Coke’s management has collaborated with Colombian paramilitaries to quash unionization efforts in that country.

The student organization also asked the Harvard Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility to work with student groups to draft a “human rights code of conduct as a criterion for investments and contracts.”

Gould-Wartofsky said that the administration should not be wary of making large-scale changes, such as those called for by SLAM, despite Summers’ recent resignation and Bok’s upcoming tenure as interim president.

“This is something that can’t wait a year-and-a half. This is about people’s lives at stake.” he said.

—BENJAMIN L. WEINTRAUB