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.”Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.