A UK Students Against Coke spokesperson today said ‘We came to Liverpool today with the aim of terminating this Coke contract. It would have been a symbolic victory that recognised the crimes Coke is guilty of in India and Colombia. We clearly won the argument. But we didn’t win the vote”. Whilst these two motions were defeated significantly, an amendment to the coke motion did pass through. This means that the contract agreed today will be up for renewal again in one year, rather than the two years that the contract usually stands for.
Whilst this contract amounts to a small volume of sales, it is a vital part of the pressure that is building on Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has been under mounting pressure from highly respected human rights agencies such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty as well as NGOs such as Colombia Solidarity Campaign [CSC] since the call for an international boycott of all Coca-Cola products in 2003 by the Colombian Food and Beverage Union, SINTRAENAL. In tandem to the human rights abuse (read murder) of unionised workers in Colombia, IndiaResource.org has documented evidence regarding Coca-Cola’s appaling environmental record in India in its production and bottling process.
Part of the reason the motions failed was not the level of knowledge regarding the ethical implications of providing exclusive contracts to Coca-Cola, but rather the way information was presented to delegates at the conference. The conference itself consisted of delegates from each university in the country, made up of elected NUS sabbaticals and the (uneleceted) general manager from the Union, with whom the official votes lie. For many, information garnered over the conference about Coke was the first time any of them had heard about the issues in India and Colombia.
Since these issues were first raised at NUSSL last year, NUSSL responded by entering into a “constructive dialogue” with Coca-Cola. Quite what was expected entering into dialogue with a multinational company accused of murder and environmental pillage other than denial and fact disputation is questionable. Nevertheless, NUSSL presented its ‘unbiased’ findings about Coke at a special (non-preannounced) seminar yesterday to delegates armed with “Coca-Cola briefing documents” from NUSSL. These briefings provide a complete picture of Coca-Cola’s responses, without going into the primary evidence against Coca-Cola. It invites delegates to visit nussl.co.uk for further (tertiary) information regarding these ‘allegations’ rather than the source (they call themselves academics!).
Citing allegations made by CSC as the other side of the debate clearly shows the lack of efforts made by NUSSL to present a balanced view; simple analysis of CSC shows that they exist as a voice citing proven human rights abuses without making fresh allegations themselves. Hence the claim by NUSSL in their briefing documents that these allegations were made by CSC shows the lack of willingness to investigate primary sources, relying on secondary information. They then question the very nature of the ‘allegations’ made by CSC without investigating these primary sources! So NUSSL is critical of the critics, but not the accused. Classic discourse manipulation distracting from the issues at hand.
More outrageous is the plain ignorance and pure disrespect shown to Indian communities by NUSSL. As part of its engagement, India Resource has offered to pay for a NUSSL delegate to visit Indian communities to see the full extent of the damage caused by Coca-Cola. NUSSL responded by demanding strict conditions to this offer to host and fund a visit. These were that exactly half the time in India was spent getting Coke’s side of the story (despite the constructive dialogue with Coke already mentioned), and that the aim of the visit would NOT be to establish a judgement on allegations made by the company. This is somewhat irreconcilable with visiting thousands of people that are affected by water scarcity, loss of food security, pollution of the groundwater and soil, and exposure to toxic wastes.
Significant things were found to be postive about. Throughout the entire event, everyone was talking about Coke. The level of awareness that they discussed the issues on is not ideal, but the issue IS ON THE AGENDA for NUSSL, and will be at the upcoming NUS conference as well. Student leaders are demanding more information. Those that are informed can only be urged to spread the truth about these proven acts of shameful negligence in the pursuit of more corporate profits.
Next year is crunch time. The big contracts are up for renewal, the sparlking and draught contracts, as well as the still ones again. Campaigners have a year to get word about and GET ACTIVE! For information about starting a Coke Boycott contact your local Student Union President, even if you’re not a student, from their Uni website, through the Union website.
Another thing picked up on was the general feeling of anti-corporatism prevalent amongst delegates. The most common argument against boycotting Coke was “why Coke? surely they’re all c***s?” This begs the retort that yes, they are, and this is the battle we are fighting now. You might as well join us.
A consensus is building. We are everywhere. Be warned.
Whilst demonstrating outside the conference venue, activists talked to passers-by and offered them Coca-Cola’s toxic sludge from India in plastic cups, symbolically representing the toxic waste product that Coca-Cola used to sell and then gave away to local farmers, polluting the surrounding area.
Meanwhile, I spoke to a Coca-Cola driver that was delivering on the road opposite. Full-time and permanent, he spoke of the way he and other collegues in the same position receive lavish benefits and relatively high pay. When asked about the abuses in Colombia and India, he appeared wholely sympathetic, citing British agency workers as examples of exploited workers, that get paid less for doing the same job. Furthermore, he told of his amazement for the amount of Coke products consumed by the supposedly most intelligent section of the population, showing me the inside of the truck full of a delivery for campus (all Coke deliveries are made to Merseyside Unis on Tuesdays). He was also highly sympathetic of the motion in NUSSL, saying that EVEN IF he were made redundant because of [inevitable] jobs cuts, were the contracts terminated, he would be happy in the knowledge it was for the right reasons. That made my day.