Will Coke Come Back? BoM to Decide

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Although Swarthmore cut its fountain contract with Coke last October, the Board of Managers may reinstate the contract at their next meeting on the weekend of September 28th. The contract was initially terminated after Coke ignored student demands for an independent investigation into allegations of labor rights violations in Colombia and environmental degradation in India.

Vice President of Facilities Stuart Hain explained, “there are some Board members, not all Board members, but some, who believe that the Kick Coke position is not a defensible position… they have asked the students to defend their position as to why we shouldn’t go back to Coke.”

Jed Rakoff ’64 is one of those board members. He was nominated to serve on the Board by the alumni association and has served since 2004. He wrote in an e-mail that “as far as I am aware, the Board as a whole did not learn about the decision to drop the Coke contract until after it had occurred.”

At the time, Rakoff had just returned from a visit to India where he met with several NGOs, and “I had never heard of the purported ‘NGO’ that was spearheading the ‘Kick Coke’ campaign called the India Resource Center… the more that I and other members of the Board looked into the issue, the more it seemed to us that many of the charges were unsubstantiated or exaggerated or, at the very least, had been accepted at face value without any attempt being made to make the rigorous inquiry into the underlying evidence that is one of the hallmarks of a Swarthmore education.”

Concerned that the case against Coke was groundless, Rakoff and other members of the Board decided to put Coke on their agenda for the upcoming September meeting. The Kick Coke students were informed of the Board’s involvement late in spring 2007. Ruth Schultz ’09 recalls that “we thought the decision was complete, so we were surprised when we heard about the Board of Managers… we didn’t necessarily know that we needed to convince the Board as well.”

At the time, says Schultz, “we were meeting with the administration to come up with a set of criteria on what would need to happen for us to purchase again, and we did come up with that, although in retrospect we should have gotten them to… sign in writing, so we could present that to the Board now.”

Rakoff explained that he wants the students to produce evidence for the charges against Coke. “Coke… like most U.S. multinational companies, has a mixed record. But courts in both Columbia and India have rejected most of the charges that the ‘Kick Coke’ campaign has leveled, and elementary notions of fairness put the burden on the campaigners to prove the charges.”

Kick Coke member Andrew Petzinger ’09 argues in response that “our burden is not to directly evidence charges of rights violations. That is the burden of an investigation – one which we have not seen come to fruition and one which has been consistently impeded by the Coca-Cola Company. It is not difficult to warrant the legitimacy of the Colombian workers call for an investigation into violence at their workplace.”

Schultz agrees, explaining that the investigation is “our main demand from Coke,” and the most important criterion to be met before Kick Coke would want the College to purchase again. “There’s an ILO investigation slated in Colombia… [but] Coke’s been saying this for a long time and then it just gets delayed and delayed… let’s actually have something completed and the results distributed… after that there’ll be more information to be able to make a decision.”

Kick Coke has sent a written argument to the Board of Managers and will be presenting in front of the Committee on Social Responsibility during their meeting. The Committee will make a recommendation to the full Board, which will then come to a decision through consensus.

The decision also has financial implications. Hain said that “from an economic stance, assuming both companies were as ethical, you’d be better off going with Coke.” Prices fluctuate depending on how much students drink, but Hain pointed to the 2005/2006 school year as a baseline, when “we purchased $14,716 in Coke bulk products. If we had bought the same amount of Pepsi it would have cost $40,553,” for a difference of nearly $26,000 dollars.

That said, Pepsi has become more competitive since 2005; Hain reports that “in the latest bids from Coke and Pepsi the price of Pepsi is just under twice the Coke price.” This is “a substantial budget impact… money that can be used for tuition, for faculty positions, for lots of things.”

The contract’s fate will be decided by the Board of Managers on the weekend of September 28th. Before then, Schultz expects that Kick Coke will organize “some showing of student support… we have talked about holding a teach-in or writing letters to the Board.”



  1. This is ridiculous. It obviously doesn’t really have anything to do with whether the campaign is valid or not – just the money. If the administration thinks that the money spent on soda should be used on other things, then let the students drink water and juice. It’s not essential that $15000-50000 a year on unhealthy artificially flavored and colored water. Get your priorities straight, people! Stick it to the man!

    Bureaucracy. -_-

  2. why is pepsi so much more expensive? perhaps they pay fairer wages or run more habitable facilities?

    soda is awful for you, though. i say get rid of all of ’em.

  3. I honestly believe, and always have, that the Kick coke campaign. especially on this campus, is something that has very little grounding. First of all, we would have to assume that Pepsi is guiltless in order to consider them a more viable supplier than Coke, and if we kick Coke on the basis of principle, then there are many other products that we would, (in all good conscience), have to stop using as well. There is not any real reason to Kick Coke on this campus, and the people who believe that Kicking Coke on this campus will actually have an effect on Coca-Cola, are sadly mistaken and a touch delusional. Kick Coke would have to have been a much larger movement, (both nationally and internationally), in order to have any sort of impact. With that being said, I really don’t feel that the school should have to expend extra money in order to buy Pepsi. That money should go into other things, such as making Sharples food better, or creating new student groups.

  4. If it has no effect on coke why did they spend the time putting advertisements in our newspaper, sending a PR rep to our school, and doing the same things to the other campuses that kicked them?

  5. Many kudos to Mr. Rakoff, for saying what no one on campus is actually brave enough to say. Accountability is a good thing, for activists AND corporations.

  6. The beautiful thing about the Kick Koke Kidz’s “attack the market leader” model is that they’re implicitly saying it’s worth giving twice the amount of college money to an equally shady but less successful corporation because, you know, eventually the entire industry will naturally either straighten up or collapse. But in the meantime (if it’s even a valid model, which it’s not) Swarthmore has twice as much of a hand in whatever equally shady business is going on behind the scenes at Pepsi. Please just drop it, find a better cause, and let the BoM undo your $26,000 mistake.

  7. Considering our endowment, the fact that we just blew nearly a million on air conditioning on Sharples (yay), and the fact that the additional cost of Pepsi is almost paid for by a single semester of tuition from me (nonwithstanding draws from the endowment), I’m doubting that, on the level of the Board of Managers, the primary interest in reversing the decision is based on finance. Mayhaps Dining Services has a reason to get Coke back in that, for better or for worse, they might then be able to have that money in their budget (though, last year, I think Linda McDougall told me that she had made an emergency/special budgetary request for the necessary funds). Coke back I’ve heard that the additional cost is, on some level, due to the fact that, prior, Swarthmore was part of a larger buying scheme with local colleges/universities, including Bryn Mawr/Haveford. Does anyone know anything more to this end? I’ve never eaten at Bryn Mawr/Haverford, so I have no clue off of the top of my head whether or not they serve Coke products.

    I’d be interested in having this debate play out in a more open forum than the Board of Managers: If Rakoff has indeed found holes in some of the charges levied against Coke, I would be interested in hearing about them in detail, along with the in-depth perspective of those who advocate against Coke. Although big, bureaucratic organizations are scary on their face value alone, I don’t really have the notion that the Board of Managers would have any reason to apologize for Coke.

    (Further, while I have some reservations about Kick Coke, I’m unsure as to why Pepsi would have to be “guiltless” assuming we have only two options [possibly an artificial situation] for major fountain beverage providers and accepting that we *will* engage in such a purchase [possibly also artificial]. If we’re going to maximize our “good,” choosing the least-worst option should be our hypothetical goal, even if all the decisions we can make are bad in absolute terms. Given, I, too, am a little skeptical as to what effect the “campaign” has had… has it gotten much press outside of, say, The Phoenix and The Gazette? That’ll be the key to, well, anything.)

  8. You guys, its not that coke has ‘shady’ business practices and are aren’t ‘accountable’, its that they have hired right-wing paramilitaries to execute union leaders in their factories in Columbia… Pepsi is bad and poisons drinking water etc. but they aren’t doing the all the same heinous stuff that coke is. The kick coke camp isn’t pro-pepsi, it just assumes that there are too many heartless students who would flip out if they couldn’t get at least some kind of brand name soda thats advertised on TV. If you have a problem with pepsi, step up and do something. Also having major institutions like colleges and universities cutting their contracts in large numbers (as is the case–its a national campaign) does have a huge effect on the coca cola company.

  9. Coke provides a superior product for a lower price. For all of you who have not taken ECON 001, that makes Coke the best choice.

  10. I find it really offensive that the administration will pull out a bunch of variable numbers to hang over the head of campus campaigns and say that if they want something to happen its coming out of “money that can be used for tuition, faculty, etc.” but then when they decide to go ahead with an idea its as though the money comes from nowhere and is represented as having a particularly negligible expense. That the college does not disclose its budget then uses finances as a political tactic is one of the most shamelessly manipulative things I’ve seen done.

  11. Let me ask you this:

    Who owns the Coke plant in Columbia?
    Who owns the Coke plant in India?
    and Who owns the Coke plant in our town?

    They are not owned by the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta Ga.
    Get your facts straight. They are FRANCHISE companies.

    Look at McDonalds, they are not owned by MCDONALDS, they are owned by private companies, not corporate.

    Whats next?
    What is the next protest?
    Of course its about money.
    Who can tell me how much money Coca-Cola has put into our school?
    What programs are suplimented by their support?

    Pepsi is not the answer, the world will not be brighter because of the change.
    All you 09’ers will be gone in a few years, then what?

    Get real people, this is silly…………

    Got a problem, e-mail me Harrybosh@gmail.com

  12. It disgusts me that an institution that claims to have a social conscience would even consider on reneging on its commitment to hold companies accountable for humanitarian and ecological travesties perpetrated in their name.

    As an alum, I pledge to contribute to Swarthmore if they hold to the hard-fought ethical stand they took last year, thereby doing my part to offset any financial costs incurred for doing the right thing. If the Board of Managers overturns this noble decision, expect no money from me or any other alums with whom I stay in touch. I want no part in a school committed to social justice in name only.

  13. Rob, Kick Coke is part of that larger movement.

    Look at this list, and the ones that have been starred: http://killercoke.org/active-in-campaign.htm

    That many schools makes a difference, particularly because Coke knows that opinions and habits students form early in life have a tendency to stick.

    With the amount of money the school wastes on rock from Switzerland or fancy chairs it can afford to give a little for the sake of social justice.

  14. Personally, (and no one kill me for this) I don’t really care about Coke, but for the school to go back on everything just like that is outrageous!

  15. Stephan,
    Let me ask you one thing.
    Are all those schools you listed served by the same coca-cola company that has the plant in Columbia?

    The question is, WHO owns the Coca-Cola plant in Columbia, is it the Coca-Cola company out of Atlanta GA, or is it a private company that bought the Coke franchise name?

  16. Harry,

    Your argument has been made many times before, but it misses the point. Sure, the Coke company in Columbia may well owned by a franchise. But does that really matter? There are still franchise rules and they are still the same brand.

    The fact that they use the same name and are so closely tied means that Coke and Coke affiliated companies will succeed and fail on the same terms. Coke knows that’s the price for letting someone else use their name. The American corporation has the complete means and opportunity to hold those who committed these crimes responsible, and by not acting it too becomes culpable.

  17. Instead of Coke or Pepsi, let’s go with a local or smaller brand. Jones Soda just took over vending for Qwest Stadium in Seattle. I’m sure there’s some local Philly brand that would love to have our business, and also treats their workers and the environment correctly.

  18. There are certainly valid reasons to “Kick the Coke,” but kicking Coke off campus and replacing it with Pepsi is like exchanging your Landrover for a Suburban.

  19. Stephen, your wrong.
    I called the local Coca-Cola company and asked them what the relationship was with Coca-Cola Atlanta.
    They said that they purchase the rights to sell the brand Coca-Cola and have rules to follow in the making and selling of the products.
    The Atlanta Coke has NO power over how the franchise bottler operates other than that. They dont negotiate union contracts or any type of Labor issues.
    I think its silly to punish the local Coke guys for something that is happening in another country.

    Why wont Kill Coke go to Columbia and fight for the rights of the workers there?
    Oh, yeah, thats right, because Columbia is ruled by thugs and they would most likely be kidnapped and killed the moment they got off the plane.

    Im just sick of all the protests and “action” groups on campus who think they are making a difference.

    Is anyone looking at Pepsi’s labor practice in China or the former Soviet Union?
    Why are there all sorts of Union strikes across the US right now in Pepsi Plants? What is Big Blue doing to their workers?

    Im with MWH, kick all soda off the campus and do away with all the money that comes in from the contracts.
    We can all aford to pay the extra thousands of dollars in tuition to make up the difference.

  20. I’d also like to second the idea of just getting rid of the soda and just using the money otherwise, or even donating it to a human rights fund, for that matter.

    I’m sure we can give up coke and pepsi in light of human rights, yes?

  21. Harry, I’m not interested in a debate, but you conceded my point in what you wrote: “They said that they purchase the rights to sell the brand Coca-Cola and have rules to follow in the making and selling of the products. “

    Those rules could include dealing with labor and environmental issues responsibly, and so forth.

  22. Harry, Beyond the fact that you are losing the battle before you begin any substantive responses by taking such an obnoxious tone, I’m a little perplexed at your argument. A franchise owner within the Coca Cola company is being investigated for human rights abuses; Therefore Coke is not responsible for the actions of its franchise? I’m pretty sure that’s what happens in a hierarchical chain of leadership; the head honcho takes responsibility for its subsidiaries. If a coke franchise is behaving unethically, then it is coke’s responsibility to, at the very least, distance itself from the franchise. Instead Coke has, as far as I know, been rather non-cooperative. It’s analogous to Rumsfeld and the Abu Ghraib soldiers. The leadership which allowed for, or did an inadequate job of preventing, abuses is somewhat responsible for those abuses.

    I really hesitated to write this, because I agree with you in general, just found your response to be so condescending that I feel like instead of rebutting your point I should have stuck to scolding you for expressing yourself so pompously and tactlessly. Not cool, dude. To lay out my own position, Kick Coke seemed like good motivations, opaque dealings (did they ever lay out their points for all of us and ask for a vote?), and a poor solution. I really agree with Dan, it would have been a good time to go for a smaller brand. Pepsi cooperated with the Junta in Burma and has faced allegations of contamination in India.

    And Navas, perhaps you remember the concept of externalities from Econ 001, i.e., pollution, killing union leaders. Also well said Diego.

  23. Seth,
    I re-read my comment and I dont see the obnoxious tone you are talking about.

    Now, has anyone ever heard of a Franchise?
    A Franchise is:
    Authorization granted to someone to sell or distribute a company’s goods or services in a certain area.

    Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper Etc, they all sell the Franchise rights to private companies.
    They are NOT part of the Coca-Cola Company. the Coca-Cola Company manufactures the syrup and sells it to the Franchise, who mixes it with water and sells it. (this is a statement of fact, look it up on the Coca-Cola Website)

    The Coca-Cola company has rights to how its Trademark is used or positioned. It has NO rights to tell the Franchise how to run its company or treat its employees, Unless it defames the trademark.
    Im not defending what the Franchise in Columbia has done, or the Coca-Cola Company’s reaction.
    I have a problem with Kill Coke taking it out on other Franchise companies who have NOTHING to do with what is going on in Columbia. This argument has been going on for years. When was the first problem in Columbia? 10 years ago? What did this LOCAL Franchise have to do with it. They have no recourse back to the seller of the Franchise rights.
    How is kicking them off campus helping the cause of the Columbians?
    Thats my point. You seem to be taking this personally for some reason and are missing the point.
    This Franchise of Coke is not the billion dollar company in Atlanta.
    Now, if you want to hurt the Coca-Cola Company, boycott McDonalds and Burger King. They get the syrup from Atlanta Coke, not the local Franchise.

    Does anyone really know what happened 10 years ago in Columbia? What are the facts? And Im not talking about the talking points on the Kill Coke site.
    Where are the 60 minute storys on this, where is newsweek or CNN?
    Im serious, how much is facts and how much is hype?
    Its like yelling fire in a theater, everyone will get up and run out, but no one is looking for the smoke.

    Oh, Seth, here is my obnoxious tone now, just for you.
    I feel sorry for you. Harry

  24. I just read at Breitbart.com that the Coca-Cola Company donated $200,000 to Hillarys campain through some of its officers.
    Hillarys comments were that the Coca-Cola company are the ideal american company she supports.
    How long until she gives this money back too?
    Or will she keep it.
    Ive alread sent an e-mail to her website.

  25. While The Gazette is very glad to see such lively debate on this issue, we request that our readers please refrain from making personal attacks on each other.

    I would like to remind you that we reserve the right to remove any comments that are disruptive or offensive.

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