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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Coca Cola, Pepsi, or Cadbury-Schweppes

    Before next semester begins, beverage companies will be sifting through the latest bidding contracts from Stony Brook University. The current contract the university has with Coca Cola is set to expire just after the Spring ’08 semester ends.

    But this time, the university is prepared to effectively handle a contract as large as the one that is coming to an end, something that Karol Gray, Vice President of Administration and Finance, admits the university was unable to do in 1998 when the current contract was signed.

    The contract is of special significance to the Social Justice Alliance, who have been running a campaign for close to two years against the Coca Cola Company, arguing that they are responsible for various human rights violations in Colombia and India. Coca Cola has been kicked off of roughly 60 other college campuses after heavy lobbying from similar student movements.

    Three active members of the Social Justice Alliance now sit on a bidding committee formed by the administration to carefully examine the bid that will be sent to a handful of potential vendors by early January. They are joined by representatives from the Faculty/Student Association, the University Hospital, Procurement and the USG.

    Gray, who removed herself from the committee early on after being involved in meetings with SJA representatives and Coca Cola representatives last semester, said that the current contract brought in over $5 million to the university.

    “I have an obligation to the students of this campus,” said Gray.

    Gray and Lyle Gomes, another Administration official involved in the renegotiation of the contract, said that the trick is finding a “balance between the concerns raised by students involved in the campaign and the needs of the university and of the students.”

    To do so, Gray has suggested a survey to be distributed to the student body as a way to gage student support for and against Coca Cola, the largest beverage company in the world.

    Anita Halasz, the campaign coordinator of the Killer Coke campaign and a member of the bidding committee, agrees with Gray that student opinion should be taken into consideration, but there is some dispute over the way such a survey would be conducted.

    “I want to make sure the survey is not spinning it,” said Gray, arguing that any survey should exclude any information about the campaign and the allegations against Coca Cola and focus specifically on personal preferences. SJA members disagree.

    “Half the people aren’t in touch with the fact that corporations are generally violating labor rights and human rights,” says Erin O’Donnell, who has been involved in the campaign since it first began. “The only reason that [students] like Coke over Pepsi is because that doesn’t matter to them.”

    Gray has argued that for every person who wants Pepsi over Coke there is a person who wants Coke over Pepsi.

    O’Donnell calls this argument ridiculous. “What do you do with a survey when its 50/50?” asked O’Donnell.

    The SJA argues that it is unfair to conduct a survey that gives equal weight to people who base their opinions on taste versus those who make an educated and calculated decision based on the facts presented. “That’s the only way it should be done,” O’Donnell said.

    Still, Gray and Gomes have both made it very clear that student input is a top priority. When asked if the contracts submitted by vendors would be open to public review in the Spring, Gray was in support of the idea, but wanted such a forum to be organized by SJA or some other external organization.

    The university is putting tremendous care into the new contract. When the university signed on with Coca Cola originally in 1998, it was the first time they had ever entered such a large contract. Officials admit that the contract was poorly constructed.

    “There were things missing from the first contract,” said O’Donnell, recalling an earlier meeting with campus officials. “They couldn’t legally sever the contract for the reasons that we were telling them.”

    Despite objections to the bidding process, Halasz said that the committee has been doing a good job reworking the bids.

    The biggest addition to the bids has been a code of ethics, one that will allow the university to pull out of a contract if they felt the company in question had violated human rights at any stage of production. Any vendor would be required to fill out this section at the initial signing of the contract and again every year for the duration of the contract.

    “The fact that [the university] didn’t have a code of ethics allowed the companies to do whatever they wanted and we couldn’t hold them responsible for anything,” said Halasz.

    Fearing that companies will misrepresent themselves in these forms, SJA proposed creating a secondary committee which would be charged with reviewing the claims of the companies against any other independent investigations into the company.

    The single largest objection to a new contract has been the university’s intention to sign another exclusive contract.

    These exclusive contracts, usually lasting 10 years, establish pouring rights on the campus. That means that a single company, most likely one of the big three beverage companies of Coca Cola, Pepsi Co. and Cadbury-Schweppes, would supply the university with roughly 90 percent of the beverages served, allocating just 10 percent of shelf space to non-competing alternatives.

    “I completely disagree with the fact that they are trying to do another exclusive beverage contract for 10 years,” said Halasz. At the very least, “Why can’t you do it for 5 years? Why can’t you do it for 3 years?”

    The upside to such a contract is mostly monetary. Companies are more willing to give more money in scholarships and sponsorships when they have a guaranteed customer base on campus.

    On the other hand, an exclusive contract severely limits students’ options. Fans of Poland Spring won’t be able to purchase their favorite water if Pepsi Co. became the exclusive vendor. But if Cadbury-Schweppes, the owner of Poland Spring, began supplying the campus, there would be no Tropicana juices because Tropicana is owned by Pepsi.

    An open contract would allow the FSA to bring alternatives onto campus.

    The bidding committee has already met for several hours this semester, meticulously going over every section of the contract. The committee has a goal to finalize the contract and send out the bids by early January. The current contract runs through June 2008.

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