To the Editor:
Recently you may have noticed Coca-Cola trucks on campus and the reemergence of Coke products in our dining halls and vending machines. Nearly three years ago, the College decided to suspend its relationship with Coke after allegations of human rights and environmental abuses by Coke subcontractors in Columbia and India were brought to our attention.
Now, with the reassurance that human and labor rights and environmental abuses are fundamentally unacceptable to The Coca-Cola Company, and the knowledge that allegations of abuse have been investigated and dismissed, Swarthmore has resumed its contractual relationship with the company.
In the last several years, allegations of human and labor rights abuses in Colombia have been investigated by the International Labor Organization, outside law firms, Coke senior executives and the courts in Colombia. In each instance, the allegation that Coke is complicit in violence against trade unionists in Colombia was dismissed, most recently on Aug. 11 when the federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld the ruling of the lower court that found no connection between Coca-Cola or its Colombian bottlers in human rights abuses. In addition, The Coca-Cola Company has demonstrated a concerted effort to protect labor rights, as well as the environment, in their plants around the world.
Last spring, as we began to feel the effects of the global financial crisis, we also noted that Coke would charge significantly less than Pepsi for our on-campus contract. In the current budget environment we judge it is prudent to resume our contractual relationship with Coca-Cola given the significant savings we will realize. While we believe fiscal matters should never be the only factor in such a decision, responsible use of College resources must always be given weight in any such decision.
Thanks are due to the “Kick Coke” students who brought the issue of potential labor rights abuses in Colombia and environmental issues in India to the attention of the College community and worked so hard with the administration on this complex issue over the last two-and-one-half years. Swarthmore students joined others around the country and the world, and engaged in thoughtful analysis and civil discourse to elevate this significant issue for all of us. The College’s commitment to consider developing a set of ethical purchasing guidelines has emerged from our engagement with students on this issue. We look forward to working through the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility as the research for those guidelines is undertaken.
Maurice Eldridge ’61
Executive Assistant to the President
Vice President for College and Community Relations