The Case Against Coke
At around the same time, new evidence of Coke's antilabor tactics emerged in Indonesia, where, according to USAS, workers were intimidated when they attempted to unionize; and in Turkey, where more than 100 union members were fired and then clubbed and tear-gassed by police during a protest. This past November the ILRF filed another lawsuit against Coca-Cola, based on the claims of the Turkish workers. By that point, students had had enough; all but one left the commission.
With the failure of the investigation commission, administrators at some schools ran out of excuses to keep the Coke contracts. Both NYU and Michigan suspended contracts in December. NYU's status as the country's largest private university earned the campaign national and international press. "We knew if we were to ban Coca-Cola, our statement would resound around the world," says Crystal Yakacki, a recent NYU graduate who helped lead the campaign while she was a student.
As this year's annual meeting nears, Coke has gone on the offensive, announcing a plan to draft a new set of workplace standards. At the same time, the company has asked the UN's International Labor Organization to perform a workplace evaluation of the Colombia bottling plants. Rogers and Collingsworth have already cried foul, pointing out that Potter has been the US employer representative to the ILO for the past fifteen years. "Either they know something we don't know," says Collingsworth, "or they believe the ILO moves so slowly and bureaucratically that they can delay." In response, Potter claims the organization is so large that no one person can influence it. Regardless, the gambit is having some effect: In April Michigan, citing "the reputation and track record of ILO," rescinded its ban.
At the Hotel du Pont on April 19, organizers hope to stage a repeat of last year's grilling, with an even larger contingent of activists in attendance. Schools debating Coke contracts this spring include Michigan State, UCLA, the University of Illinois, DePaul and several campuses of the City University of New York. In Britain, the campaign lost a close vote in April to convince the National Union of Students--which represents 750 campuses--to cut a multimillion-pound contract. Many British universities, however, are continuing individual boycotts, as are campuses in Italy, Ireland, Germany and Canada. "This is a moment in history that is very rare, where students have the power to change one of the largest corporations in the world," says Romero. After recent campus victories, momentum seems to be on the side of the campaign. "Coke has a contracting market; we have an expanding market," says Rogers. "I want Coke to come to the realization that there is a lot more for them to lose by continuing to do what they do. They have to be made to do the right thing for the wrong reason."
Until they do, say activists, the violence against Coke's workers will continue. "It's very difficult for me to convince my family that they have to live with the worries, and that they will one day maybe have to receive bad news," says SINALTRAINAL's Correa. "My kids say that walking with Dad is like walking with a time bomb. But I can't leave this struggle seeing these violations happening all around me. The reality of the situation is that it's better being with a union than without one."