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Criticizing Coca-Cola

The Welfare Council has demanded that SiO confronts Coca-Cola with what they believe to be a lack of social responsibility when the association negotiates a new deal with the soft drinks giant next year.

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FOTO: Robin Røkke Johansen

The mood was steaming during the soft drinks debate at Monday’s Welfare Council (VT) meeting. A large majority passed a resolution asking the Foundation for Student Life in Oslo (SiO) to be tougher on the Coca-Cola Company.

- The Welfare Council and SiO have good guidelines concerning ethics and the environment, and we must follow up on this, said Erik Schreiner Evans, who forwarded the proposal.

The resolution states that SiO must «consider the environment and human rights» in next year’s negotiations, and «make clear to Coca-Cola what the ethical arguments against an extension of the current deal would be». The association has also been asked to explore the possibility of finding another supplier.

The students’ choice

Through a major deal with SiO, Coca-Cola Drikker AS has been given spaces for vending machines on campus and in student housing, and have also been given dominance in fizzy drinks sales at the student canteen. The basis for the suggestion from VT is the company’s alleged undermining of worker’s unions in Latin America, especially Colombia, and destruction of the environment in India.

- It is no longer a question of whether Coca-Cola is causing this destruction or not. It has been confirmed, by Indian authorities amongst others, who closed down the country’s largest plant, claims Amit Srivastava from India Resource, an organization connected to Attac.

Srivastava was present at the VT meeting to argue in favour of the proposal. He says that the fizzy drinks giant has ruined the livelihoods of countless farmers.

- Students must be able to make an ethical choice every time they buy something. When you buy a product, you are in effect «voting» for it. This election is often tough, considering Coca-Cola’s dominance on the market, Srivastava says.

The representative with the most oppositional arguments in the debate was Haakon Peter Riekeles of the Moderate Group, who still voted in favour of the proposal.

- Initially, I was skeptical about the fact that we were making an ethical choice on behalf of the students, but it transpired that this was instead about making it possible for students to make this choice themselves, Riekeles reasons, and adds that he does not mind admitting that he was convinced.

- Taking it seriously

- We take our social responsibilities very seriously. I have just been in Colombia myself, and have gained a thorough and complete picture of the cases in which we have been accused of wrongdoing, both there and in other countries. I am looking forward to sharing this insight with SiO, says Svein Rømmerud, spokesman for Coca-Cola Drikker AS.

Rømmerud points out that the multinational company has accepted criticism from their own quarters in a number of cases, and has done a solid job on making improvements.

Srivastava claimed during the VT meeting that the drinks manufacturers have a unique ability to get out of unfortunate positions, than to their extensive resources.

- It is sad that someone uses this argument, because it means in practice that we will never have the opportunity to clear our name. These kinds of points usually come out when people are faced with documentation that the reality is not what they had hoped, states Coca-Cola spokesman Rømmerud.

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