Coalition Against Coke Contracts lecture sparks controversy

By Tatyana Safronova

Coca-Cola vending machines are a familiar sight all over University buildings. The company has a 10-year, 10-milion dollar contract with the University, a contract that will be coming up for renewal in June 2007.

Recently, there has been mounting opposition to the contract from the Coalition Against Coke Contracts as well as the University chapter of Students Against Sweatshops and other campus organizations.

On Thursday night, the Coalition Against Coke Contracts hosted Amit Srivastava, coordinator of the India Resource Center in San Francisco, Calif., who discussed Coca Cola’s practices in Colombia and India. Another lecture is scheduled for Friday night at the Urbana Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana, at 6 p.m.

Sravistava discussed the four areas of concern in India about the company. The topics include: water scarcity allegedly created by the bottling plants in the surrounding communities; pollution of ground water, as well as land with the cleaning agents used by the company; distribution of toxic fertilizers to farmers, a practice now outlawed by the Indian government; and Indian Coke products found to contain levels of pesticides up to 34 times greater than those allowed by the standards of the United States and the European Union.

Kari Bjorhus, spokesperson for the Coca-Cola Company, said the water shortages in India are attributed to an unusually small amount of rainfall in the past couple of years. In the Indian state of Kerala, a bottling plant has been closed for over a year due to concerns over water shortage. Bjorhus said that the government of Kerala conducted a yearlong study on the causes of drought in the state and found that the Coca-Cola was not responsible for the shortages.

“Our goal is to replace all the water we take,” Bjorhus said. “We share a concern over water scarcity.”

Sravistava said he supports a rigorous investigation of Coke by the University and the dropping of the Coca-Cola contract before the 2007 deadline. He said the University of Michigan held a similar investigation that took 10 months last year. In the end, Michigan put Coke on a yearlong probation.

Sravistava also said Rutgers University also pulled its exclusive contract with Coca-Cola just four months ago. Fifteen college campuses in the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom also cancelled their contracts with the company.

Joshua Rohrscheib, co-president of the Illinois Student Senate, expressed his concern about the negotiations going on between the University Representatives Commission and the Coca-Cola Company.

The commission is a multi-university group designated to investigate Coca-Cola’s bottling plants in Colombia and to develop a method to address other concerns of communities affected by Coca-Cola and its affiliates in the world, according to a letter signed by various representatives from other universities on behalf of the whole commission.

“We ask the administration to take a public stand saying (to Coca-Cola), ‘If you don’t let independent third party investigations take place and you don’t stop dragging your feet, when the contract comes up for renewal, we will seriously consider exploring other options, not renewing it, or going with Pepsi,'” Rohrscheib said.

Jen Walling, graduate student and ISS senator, also expressed her own concern over the exclusivity of Coke’s contract.

“The influence of Coke on this campus is huge just in diminishing the options available to students,” Walling said. “What about outside smaller beverage companies that could be providing more choices to students and lowering prices?”