The School Of African And Oriental Studies has become the latest university to implement a sales boycott of all Coke products in its student union shops and bars. The move comes in response to the human rights claims against its parent corporation The Coca-Cola Company.
SOAS joins a long line of other institutions in its boycott of Coca-Cola, with the universities of Manchester, Dublin, Sussex, Michigan and Santa Clara being but a few to make a stand against the soft-drinks goliath. The SOAS campaign, headed up by first year student Charles Brook, is made up by members of the Palestine Society. The group does mention, however, that the company’s actions in Palestine (alleged operation of production plants on illegally occupied land) are not the only reason for the boycott, and that there are more general, worldwide concerns.
They point to the alleged use of child labourers in El Salvador, racial discrimination fines in the United States and the supposed intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder of several union leaders in Columbia and Guatemala. According to Brook, it is these claims that provide the foundations for the university’s boycott.
We hope that the boycott will show that we at SOAS don’t think that a company as unethical as Coca-Cola has a place in our uni and we refuse to be a part of their profits.
The important question for readers of The Tab, however, is whether this boycott is likely to spread to Southampton University. Chloe Green, VP Communities & Welfare, made an attempt in May 2011 to get a similar embargo placed on the sale of Nestlé products due to ethical concerns. Her proposal was rejected. Despite this, it would be worth remembering that SOAS also had more than one rejection of the Coke boycott, yet still succeeded in the end.
Furthermore, Green has very recently passed a business ethics policy which aims to ethically audit all of the SUSU’s business partners by 2015. This means putting in place standards for the purpose of deciding which companies the Union does and does not want to continue working with. When we asked the question, ‘if, hypothetically, the business ethics policy were to be introduced next week, would The Coca-Cola Company’s products be approved for sale and if not, why?’, Sam Ling, Union President answered:
if the policy were to be fully rolled out tomorrow it would be difficult to guess whether or not Coke would be on any sort of banned list. Both the tolerances/banding and the key areas which as a union we put more weight to when it comes to ethics will be determined through consultation and work by the sustainability zone. Because of that it’s impossible to know at this stage what the future decisions would likely be.”
While this may be a vague answer, it is not hard to read between the lines. Unless there were a drastic withdrawal of all claims against Coca-Cola, the allegations against them would, in all likelihood, lead to their withdrawal from sale at the Union. Accusations involving murder, kidnap and child labour, even if not proven, go a long way in ethical audits. In addition to this, it would also be worth considering what other companies may fall foul of the new business ethics policy. Nestlé, for example, would find themselves right in the firing line considering that the new ethics policy was initiated by Green, the same person who had her Nestlé boycott proposal rejected two years ago.
What do you think? Is Coca-Cola as boycott-able as Nestlé? Let us know in comments.