UVM Coke a Travesty and a Joke

To the Editor:

At the beginning of this semester, the campus community learned from the Burlington Free Press that the UVM administration had unilaterally contracted with the Coca-Cola Corporation for 10 years of “near-exclusive rights” to on-campus sales of soft drinks in exchange for $4.1 million to be paid to the university during the 10 years of the contract.

This near-monopoly does a disservice to the campus community. It restricts choices for all of us without consultation and prior approval of the Faculty Senate, Staff Council and the Student Government Association. It is another piece of the drive toward the privatization of public higher education–a drive that is at the expense of our duties to the public and to our material independence from corporate control.

But even more seriously, this contract draws UVM into an intimate connection with a corporation that permits gross violations of human rights in its subsidiaries in Latin America, most notoriously and recently in Colombia. According to various human rights organizations and SINALTRAINAL (National Union of Food Industry Workers of Colombia), Coca-Cola’s subsidiaries in Columbia have openly and notoriously used paramilitary death squads to terrorize and murder union officers and members and families for the last 14 years. This campaign of anti-union terror keeps wages low and profits higher. The same standards of social responsibility that we apply to investments should be observed even more scrupulously in contractual agreements.

Had the administration consulted the campus community before cutting this deal, we could have warned them away from such an exclusive arrangement with the “Killer Coke” scandal. Since they did not do so, we should now join the boycott being organized by the US Student Association and by labor unions around the world. For a more detailed background on this boycott, see: http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/stopkillercoke/.

UVM community participation in the “Killer Coke” Boycott would stand us in solidarity with the workers in the Colombian Coke plants. It would also be a constructive response to the increasing corporate penetration and “branding” of campus life at UVM and across the country.

The administration and Coca-Cola can terminate this contact. A well-informed, active boycott will encourage them both to do so.