UI wants proof of wrongdoing before deciding on Coke contract

By Brian Mellen

With a ten-year long contract with the University of Illinois expiring in June 2007, groups like Coalition Against Coke Contracts are pushing to exclude the company from renewing their contract. Opposition to Coca-Cola stems from allegations of human rights violations by the company in other countries.

However, the University is waiting for more evidence to surface before drastic action is taken.

“The University wants to look good and we think actually you don’t look very good if you engage with such a corporation,” said Urbana resident Mark Enslin, a protester who was asked to do a skit on the Quad last week as part of the CACC’s alternative soda tasting.

According to the CACC, Coca-Cola was allegedly involved in the murders of pro-union workers from Coke bottling plants in Colombia by paramilitary groups.

“There is some evidence that the Coca-Cola corporation knew about these practices,” Enslin said.

The CACC and other student groups believe the killings were an attempt by Coke to intimidate workers from joining unions.

The CACC believes Coke is guilty in other areas as well. They said Coke’s other offenses include the exploitation and pollution of water in India, Mexico and Ghana, as well as union busting in places like Guatemala and Turkey.

But whether or not Coke is actually guilty of the alleged violations is still being debated. Not everyone is convinced.

According to the Associated Press, a Miami judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed against Coca-Cola in regards to the murders in Colombia. The judge said the complaints in the lawsuit were too vague. Coca-Cola was also cleared of past charges in two Colombian courts as well.

“There’s not a lot of factual proof that the allegations have occurred,” said Cody Skees, Illinois Student Senate member representing the college of ACES. “They’re just allegations.”

Skees supported a resolution last spring to keep Coca-Cola on the list of potential bidders for next June. He said Coke is a “good friend” to the University, providing added revenue as well as money for scholarships and athletics.

“The University’s already in financial disarray, so we can take every penny we can get,” Skees said.

He said the University will wait on the investigation the U.N. is conducting in Colombia before any major moves are made. Until then, the Chancellor and his advisory committee will not be excluding Coke from a potential contract renewal.

“Really there’s not much Coke can do in situations like that where the government has so much control,” Skees said.

Mark Enslin, though, disagrees.

“A good (corporation) would be acting to make sure that any of their affiliates would be having good labor relations,” Enslin said.

Other campuses besides the University of Illinois have already completely banned Coke products as a result of the alleged crimes. This year, campuses like CUNY Law School in Queens, N.Y. and the University of Michigan placed Coca-Cola on temporary probation until Coca-Cola started making moves to solve the problems in Colombia and India.

The Coalition also believes that an exclusive contract with the University is unfair to students and that they should have more options than just Coca-Cola products.

The CACC held an alternative soda tasting in protest last week.

“The idea was to build awareness on campus to offer students other choices so it’s not just Coca-Cola,” said member of the CACC Ryan Carbon.