Berry May Choose Soda Today

Decision Will Take Into Account PepsiCo's Involvement in Burma

What was once a simple taste test has now become an issue of morality.

Michael P. Berry, director of Harvard Dining Services (HDS), is expected to decide this morning whether to transfer Harvard's beverage contract, currently with CocaCola, to PepsiCo.

Years of less-than-adequate service and non-competitive prices are strong incentive for HDS to switch from Coke to Pepsi, Berry said.

But PepsiCo's support of the military regime in Burma, a South Asian government notorious for human right violations, raises concern among undergraduates and HDS officials.

Earlier this year, Berry decided to install PepsiCo products in Annenberg Hall and at Loker Commons. He said at the time that the choice was made with strictly economic and service considerations in mind.


But in making this latest decision, Berry said he has had to consider more than just monetary concerns.

Berry's decision has received attention from many who oppose PepsiCo's involvement in Burma, including the Burmese exiled finance minister, who urged Berry to reject the contract, and some of PepsiCo's shareholders, who are concerned that HDS's choice may affect future PepsiCo business.

Involvement in Burma

PepsiCo's bottling plant in Burma, also known as Myanmar, lies at the heart of Harvard's concern.

Since Burma's money is virtually worthless, according to the February 16 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, the profit PepsiCo makes through their sales in the country must be reinvested in Burmese produce which is then sold on the international market.

American human rights activist groups like Amnesty International and a Harvard student group, Burma Action Group, accuse PepsiCo of buying produce grown on farms which utilize forced labor.

PepsiCo refuses to specify the farms from which it purchases produce.

Labor in Burma is tightly controlled by the military regime currently in power, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which ousted the democratically elected government in 1990. According to SLCO official policy, any business employing more than five workers must select workers from a list of candidates provided by the Labor Office.

Thus, activists argue that Pepsi-Co's compliance with the government legitimizes the SLCO.

Upping the Ante

On March 12, Berry received a letter from the Minister of Finance for the exiled democratic government, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), citing the recent withdrawal of corporations like Liz Claiborne and Levi Strauss and Co. In the letter, the minister urges HDS not to sign a contract with PepsiCo.

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