Volume 74, Number 45 | March 16 - 22, 2005

Colombian Coke murders spark call for N.Y.U. campus-wide ban

By Josie Garthwaite

It’s not about Coke or Pepsi anymore — the question students are asking now is, “Coke, or no Coke?” And taste has nothing to do with it.

A yearlong student campaign to ban Coca-Cola products from the New York University campus failed to win support from the All-University Senate at a meeting on March 3, but organizers for the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke aren’t retiring yet.

Student activists have demanded an independent investigation of allegations that Coca-Cola has turned a blind eye to anti-union violence at its Carepa, Colombia, bottling facility, allowing the murders of at least eight union leaders since 1989.

Coca-Cola has called the allegations “false” and “outrageous,” and refused the investigation. While spokespersons acknowledge the deaths, they point to prevalent violence in Colombia and provisions such as paid emergency cell phones and loans for secure housing for employees who feel unsafe as evidence that the crimes are beyond the international company’s control.

Student organizers, however, are not convinced. Now active on more than 85 college campuses across North America and Europe, the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke began in April 2003 under the leadership of Ray Rogers, a labor-rights consultant and activist.

Voices from the Washington Sq. campus joined the group’s ranks in March 2004, after Colombian labor union SINALTRAINAL filed suit against the corporation and its bottling facility in Miami courts for human-rights violations.

Eight universities — six in the U.S., two in Ireland — have already approved campus-wide boycotts, a move that N.Y.U. organizers say is imperative to pressure the company into action.

Before the N.Y.U. All-University Senate meeting last Thursday, organizers expressed confidence the senate would agree. “We simply have all the facts on our side,” student activist Crystal Yakaeki said. “And all we’re asking for is an investigation.”

Last December, the student-run University Committee on Student Life found common ground with Yakaeki and her fellow organizers. After hearing arguments from both Killer Coke organizers and a Coca-Cola representative, U.C.S.L. agreed an investigation with the threat of boycott would be appropriate and sent the issue on for its final seal of approval at the All-University Senate.

The senate, comprised of N.Y.U. students, faculty, deans and administrators, voted 36-14 against the proposed resolution. As an alternative, senators elected to send a letter requesting the company’s participation in a Worker Rights Consortium forum with other concerned universities and to construct a timeline the company will be encouraged to follow with an implicit but unstated threat of boycott.

Students who had gathered outside the meeting in support of the ban were disappointed by the senators’ decision, but not discouraged. In a rallying e-mail to fellow activists, organizer Kristin Campbell advocated viewing the senate resolution as “a small victory,” and urged dedication to ensuring that the letter and a concrete timeline be forthcoming with “transparency, and speed.” The resolution itself is not enough. The challenge now, she says, is “to put teeth to it.”

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