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    Killer Coke Campaign Escalates

    A campus organization that has been trying to sever SBU’s ties with the Coca-Cola Company began talks with the university administration last week.

    On Thursday, Nov. 2, members of the organization, Social Justice Alliance, met with leaders of the FSA, the branch of the university that signed the contract with Coca-Cola. Earlier last week, Anita Halasz, the organizer of the campaign, received an email from Shirley Strum Kenny, the university president. Both of the dialogs were responses to two letters that the Social Justice Alliance delivered to the respective offices early last month.

    Social Justice Alliance has been campaigning to end SBU’s exclusive contract with Coca-Cola since the beginning of this semester, after changing their strategy since their first campaign, which took place during the last academic year. The campaign is mostly a reaction to Coca-Cola’s alleged human rights violations in Colombia.

    The organization sent letters to Kenny’s office and the FSA’s office in early Oct. in an effort to schedule meetings with university administrators. The goal, according to Halasz, was to gauge the administration’s reaction to their campaign so they would know how to move forward.

    In her email, president Kenny said, ‘I will be glad to meet with you. We do have contractual obligations, which can not be readily abrogated, and I am looking into the exact specifics of our contracts.’ She advised Social Justice Alliance to meet with FSA first, because they know more about the details of the contract.

    The meeting between FSA and Social Justice Alliance, which lasted almost two hours, focused mostly on the details of SBU’s contract with Coca-Cola. Kevin Kelly, executive director of FSA, and Warren Wartell, associate director for human resources and marketing for FSA, also advised Social Justice Alliance on how to proceed with their campaign.

    They advised Social Justice Alliance leaders to address the University Senate, citing the strategy of NYU’s successful campaign to kick the Coca-Cola Company off of their campus last year.

    In 2005, NYU student activists got the NYU All University Senate to demand Coca-Cola host an independent, impartial investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Colombia. When Coca-Cola refused, they ended their contract with the company. According to NYU Inc., a NYU student activist newsletter, the Coca-Cola ban began on Dec. 8, 2005, under the authority of the All University Senate.

    Currently, Social Justice Alliance is trying to get on the agenda of a future SBU University Senate meeting.

    SBU’s contract with Coca-Cola was signed in 1998, and is scheduled to end in Jan. 2008. Coca-Cola products, including Sprite, Minute Maid juices, and Dasani water, are the exclusive beverages sold, dispensed, sampled, or served at all campus locations, according to the contract. However, 10 percent of the university’s shelf space is reserved for beverages, mutually designated by FSA and Coca-Cola, which are not in competition with Coca-Cola products, like milk or certain flavors of juice or soft drink.

    The contract also establishes that 25 percent of the signage space available on campus scoreboards, athletic facilities, and menu boards is reserved for Coca-Cola advertisements.

    In return for these privileges, Coca-Cola gives a certain amount of money to SBU. However, according to New York State freedom of information laws, the company is allowed to keep this amount to itself, because it is classified as a trade secret. The sections of FSA’s contract with Coca-Cola that mention this amount are omitted from the version available to the public.

    Although FSA signed the contract, and currently enforces and manages its terms, it did not negotiate the contract, said Kelly. The contract was negotiated by an administrator outside the FSA.

    At the meeting, Wartell said that two years ago, representatives from Coca-Cola came to SBU and met with representatives from Campus Dining and FSA to explain the allegations against the company. ‘I was not convinced either way because they didn’t go into any great detail,’ said Wartell. He added, ‘We didn’t think it was a burgeoning issue.’

    Some of the most reputable evidence for Coca-Cola’s alleged crimes, according to Halasz, comes from a NYC fact-finding delegation report from 2004. The report, titled ‘Final Report: Investigation of Allegations of Murder and Violence in Coca-Cola’s Colombia Plants,’ was written after New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate and a delegation of union, student, and community activists (five people besides Monserrate) traveled to Colombia and met with Coca-Cola officials and workers, and governmental, human rights and clergy representatives in 2004.

    ‘The findings of the New York City Fact-Finding Delegation on Coca-Cola in Colombia support the workers’ claims that the company bears responsibility for the human rights crisis affecting its workforce,’ said the report. The delegation identified 179 ‘major human rights violations’ of Coca-Cola’s workers, including 9 murders. ‘Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured,’ said the report. ‘Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.’

    Coca-Cola’s media relations department was unable to comment in time for the publication of this article. However, the company made an entire website devoted to the contradiction of criminal allegations, cokefacts.org. According to the website, a lawsuit filed by Colombian union workers in 2001 against two Coca-Cola bottlers was dismissed by The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in 2003.

    The website also says that Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia are unionized at 9 times the national average, and workers are paid at least 30 percent above the nation’s minimum wage.

    In Coca-Cola’s 2005 10K report, the company acknowledged activism as a possible financial risk factor. The report says, ”hellip;adverse publicity surrounding obesity concerns, water usage, labor relations and the like could negatively affect our Company’s overall reputation and our products’ acceptance by consumers.’ It also says, ”hellip;product boycotts resulting from political activism could reduce demand for our products’hellip;’

    Killercoke.org, a website that tracks campaigns against Coca-Cola, has identified about 157 universities worldwide that are active in fighting the presence of the company, 27 of which have terminated major contracts with the company, including NYU and Hofstra University. SBU is on the list.

    Currently, members of the Social Justice Alliance are trying to meet with the university president and the University Senate. They are also working to host a debate between representatives from the Coca-Cola Company and community activists who oppose it.

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