June 21, 2005 – Student activists at the University of Michigan are on the verge of an apparent victory in a battle with Coca Cola over the companyâ€™s record of environmental and labor violations at overseas plants.
The schoolâ€™s contract with the soft drink giant came into question following a complaint filed last September by Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality (SOLE) that Coca Cola and affiliated companies operating abroad were violating environmental and labor laws in India and Columbia.
Activists said Coca Cola bottling plants in India are guilty of polluting the ground with solid waste sludge, violating pesticide application laws and depleting fresh water resources.
In Colombia, the company has been accused of doing business with bottling contractors that engage in abusive and violent harassment of employees. Paramilitary groups believed to be supported by bottling plant owners there are thought to have killed some union activists. Colombian workers and the families of some who were killed have filed a lawsuit against Coca Cola over the allegations in Miami District Court.
SOLE asked the University of Michigan to suspend its vendor contract with the company, prompting a formal investigation by the University Dispute Review Board (DRB). The inquiry began on March 7, 2005 and concluded a week ago.
University investigators concluded that Coca Cola has been in violation of its own policies in Columbia and that its heavy reliance on pesticides in India is in violation of the Universityâ€™s Vendor Code of Conduct. The DRB said it could not verify the other charges.
The DRB recommended that the vending contract with Coke be suspended pending "remedial steps to bring all operations in compliance with the [Vendor Code of Conduct]," required by August 1, 2006. Additionally, the investigators are asking for an independent third party audit of all charges be finished by March 31, 2005, with the objective being the adoption of a plan to address the violations by May 31 of the same year.