Several universities across the country have responded to alleged human rights violations occurring at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Columbia and India by banning Coke products on campus.
The University of Michigan suspended its contract with Coke last month in response to the campaigning of UM's Coalition to Cut the Contract with Coca-Cola.
UM did not renew its $1.4 million contract with Coke because the corporation did not meet UM's demands for an independent investigation into the alleged violations and the development of a corrective plan.
"We want Coca-Cola to come out with a human rights declaration," said Deepti Reddy, UM student and CCCCC member. "That would be such a big step as far as addressing some of the problems that we've had with Coca-Cola, especially in Columbia [with] the union problems there."
In addition to UM, New York University has implemented an all-campus ban, while Rutgers University has switched from Coke products to Pepsi products.
Coke has been accused by several human rights organizations of union intimidation, the most serious of these being the murder of union leaders in Columbia, but Coke officials have refuted the allegations.
"I would stand our company's labor relations practices alongside any other company on the planet," said Ed Potter, director of Global Labor Relations for The Coca-Cola Company, in a press release Tuesday.
In a letter to UM, Coca-Cola defended its human rights record, stating that the company has put "concrete steps" in place to address specific accusations.
"Moving beyond accusations to constructive collaboration will result in tangible results and more progress for the people of Colombia and India," the company said in the letter.
Reddy believes the Coca-Cola contract suspension is not the final victory, but a means to an end.
"If we just end up banning the contract and Coca-Cola doesn't change anything that just is worse than a failure," Reddy said. "The only reason we have ever brought this up is so they will find a way to change their behavior."
NYU banned Coca-Cola in December because of Coca-Cola's failure to conduct an independent investigation of the charges in Columbia.
However, Coca-Cola hired an auditing firm to conduct an investigation into these charges. The company, called the Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, found no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Coca-Cola. This investigation was not satisfactory for NYU, as it was seen as not entirely independent.
"People were not satisfied with [the investigation]," Arthur Tannenbaum, chair of NYU's University Senate Public Affairs Committee, said. "[They] identified Cal-Safety as a 'corporate creature.'"
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, following the lead of these student organizations, made a statement Tuesday calling for the resolution of the disputes between student, labor and human rights groups and Coke.
"Our union brothers and sisters at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia have been threatened, kidnapped, tortured and murdered," James P. Hoffa, Teamsters General President, said in a press release. "It's long past time for Coca-Cola to negotiate a global human rights agreement that will protect the rights and safety of workers who produce, package and distribute Coca-Cola products."
Responding to this, Potter criticized the Teamsters for making false accusations.
"I am unaware of the Teamsters ever being involved in productive discussions addressing the issues facing Colombian workers. It is clear that the Teamsters know nothing about our operations in Colombia," said Potter. "These irresponsible accusations do a disservice to their own membership."