Friday, March 16, 2007

Coalition Against Coke Contracts Statement to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees

Remarks made at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Board of Trustees Meeting on March 13, 2007.

Good morning. My name is Costa Nikolaides. I am a senior at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and I am also the president of the student organization the Coalition Against Coke Contracts. I have asked to speak today to inform the Board of Trustees about the concerns of my organization over the egregious record of human and labor rights violations and environmental degradation of the Coca-Cola company around the world. These concerns are relevant for all of us who are associated with UIUC, due to the fact that the only beverages available on the Champaign-Urbana campus are the products of the afore-mentioned corporation, which forces students, faculty and staff to continue to subsidize the violations of this company.

On September 12, 2006 the Coalition Against Coke Contracts, a broad coalition of students, faculty, staff, and community members in Urbana-Champaign, filed a formal complaint and submitted supporting research to bring to the attention of the university administration the available evidence regarding these allegations. In the over three hundred page documentation of Coca-Cola's outrageous record of human and labor rights violations, and environmental degradation, we outlined why the University of Illinois should take a stronger stance on this issue and join its peer institutions in expressing these concerns to the corporation through non-renewal of any further business relationship with the company. To date, the Chancellor's Office has not taken a leadership role by making a public commitment to upholding its business partners to highest standards of human and labor rights, and environmental stewardship.

The administration's continued public silence concerning its future business relations with Coca-Cola is tantamount to complicity with the company's malpractices, which is a matter of grave concerns for the campus community that support this campaign. We have provided documentation of Coca-Cola's unethical practices in Colombia, Turkey, India and Guatemala. For example, our report outlines the inexcusable manner in which the Coca-Cola company's bottling plants in India have depleted the water table in Plachimada, Kerala and indiscriminately discharged polluted waste water into the fields around its plant. We have also submitted overviews and briefs on Coca-Cola's financial support and active collusion with paramilitary groups to destroy Colombian workers' attempts to organize unions. We would be happy to provide this documentation to the members of the Board upon request.

I would like to stress to the Board that this issue requires urgent attention. In the coming month, the State of Illinois will announce its decision to enter into a state-wide exclusive pouring rights contract. The Chancellor's office has already verified in writing that the University can "opt-out" of the state-wide contract , and exercise the right to choose the vendors it would like to do business with. I would like to make the case that any continuing business relationship with Coca-Cola is damaging to the university's image and mission, and hence not in its best interest . By refusing to enter into business relationships with Coca-Cola, the University of Illinois will make sure that it does not condone socially irresponsible corporations. Additionally, such action will reaffirm the University's commitment to human rights and demonstrate that it takes its membership in the Worker's Rights Consortium and Fair Labor Association seriously.

In closing, we urge the Board of Trustees, Chancellor Herman and Associate Chancellor Bill Adams to conclusively state that the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign will not do business with Coca-Cola until the company improves working conditions in factories around the world and addresses the human rights violations and environmental degradation caused by its business and manufacturing practices.

Thank you for your time.
Costa Nikolaides