UVM Students Want Coca-Cola Off Campus - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

UVM Students Want Coca-Cola Off Campus

Justin Hurtt Justin Hurtt

Burlington, Vermont - March 6, 2008

Concerns about human rights violations in South America have students at the University of Vermont trying to get Coca-Cola kicked off campus. The students are part of a larger organization called the Worldwide Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. The group accuses the company of hiring paramilitary members to kill union leaders in Colombia.

UVM is a campus full of Coca-Cola products, including Coke, Dr. Pepper, Vitamin Water and Odwalla bars. Justin Hurtt, who is leading up the effort to kick Coke off campus, says other students are frequently surprised to learn just how many products are made by the Coca-Cola company. He says getting them to give up the products might take a bit of convincing, but he's sure it can be done.

"I believe we can be able to do that here at the University of Vermont," says Hurtt. "I believe that we should if we want to hold up to our code of conduct and be able to promote ourselves as a progressive and a sustainable college."

Ray Rogers, head of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, says the Coca-Cola company hired Colombian paramilitary groups to kill leaders of the union Sinaltrainal who were trying to organize unions at bottling plants. He says former employees at one of the plants have testified about witnessing one of the murders.

The Coca-Cola company strongly denies the accusations. In a statement to WCAX, a spokesperson for the company said, "Our bottling partners enjoy extensive, normal relations with multiple unions in Colombia and currently have collective bargaining agreements in place with all of the unions covering wages, benefits and working conditions."

In addition, Coke says a third party conducted inspections at its bottling plants in South America and "found no violations and uncovered no allegations with respect to human rights abuses at any of the plants."

Two judicial inquiries in Colombia found Coca-Cola and its bottlers innocent of any involvement in the violence against the union. But the nation is notoriously corrupt, so critics want Coca-Cola to cooperate in a independent investigation. In 2006, a U.S. federal court dismissed a lawsuit by Sinaltrainal, stating that the accusations were too vague.

Still, 47 other universities, including Rutgers and New York University, have launched successful campaigns to replace Coke products with Pepsi products. Hurtt says the UVM administration seems willing to at least consider the idea.

Bianca Slota - WCAX News

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