MSA urges action on Coca-Cola

JP Leider

After considerable debate, members of the Minnesota Student Association voted Tuesday to encourage the University to inquire into Coca-Cola’s business practices in India.

The resolution alleges the Coca-Cola Co. in India is diminishing water supplies by pumping water out of the Kerala region of India, “leaving local residents without (a) sufficient water supply to survive,” among other allegations.

According to a letter presented to members at MSA Forum by representatives from the local Midwest Coca-Cola Bottling Co., the plant in Kerala has been closed since March 2004.

For fiscal 2005, the University’s contract with Coca-Cola will yield just less than $900,000 in revenue.

Several members questioned the validity of sources presented in the resolution, one of which was a Nov. 4 Daily editorial titled, “U must stop supporting Coke.”

Forum member Will Kusch said he wants answers.

“If there is any possibility these (allegations) are true, they’re severe enough to warrant an explanation by the Coca-Cola Co. to administration.”

Kusch said he just wants to make sure Coca-Cola is a company the University would want to do business with.

Resolution co-author Michael Azen said inquiry is the point of the resolution, not severing the University’s contract with Coca-Cola or labeling it an “evil corporation.”

“We have a huge contract with Coca-Cola ” you look around, everywhere it says, “Coca-Cola,’ ” he said. “In some ways, we’re a reputable public university. We’re getting all this money from Coke. Some of the money might not be the cleanest.”

Brock Safe, lead account manager for Coca-Cola at the University, said he was disappointed the Forum didn’t get to hear both sides.

The letter presented to the Forum challenged many of the allegations made in MSA’s resolution.

Although products in this region are bottled in Eagan, Safe said he was still concerned with the allegations against Coca-Cola in India.

Safe said he wasn’t notified about the proposed resolution until late Monday.

“You’re a respected organization,” he told Forum members after the meeting, suggesting they should look at both sides of the issue.

Steve Wang, a student representative to the Board of Regents, said Coca-Cola heard about this on such short notice because the resolution was “rushed through committee.”

Normally, Wang said, he sends MSA’s agenda and pertinent documents to administration.

However, this resolution passed through MSA’s executive board this weekend because the original version didn’t have “correct sources,” so the authors had to refine it, he said.

Wang said he thinks the University’s upcoming contract renegotiation with Coca-Cola is related to the resolution, despite what the authors said.

“A lot of things cited in the resolution happened over the course of the past few years. So I think they are connected,” he said. “If we’re going to look at issues in the Coca-Cola company, the reason it came |up to me is because the renegotiation process is starting soon.”

Coca-Cola’s contract with the University expires in 2008.