Some students at U of T think more than taste is involved in the Coke-Pepsi battle. The executives of two campus organizations are looking to boycott Coke due to a lawsuit filed in July against Coca-Cola and Panamerican Beverages Inc.
The suit, filed by the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labour Rights Fund, alleges that Panamerican Beverages employees collaborated with paramilitary death squads to murder trade union leaders at their bottling plants in Columbia.
The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) and the Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU) have said that while the boycott is not yet official, the executive boards would like to present the idea to their membership for a vote.
“We’re in the planning stages, following the steps of many universities in Canada,” said ASSU president Rakhi Bhavnani. ASSU, which sells pop, has decided to stop selling Coke and is looking into alternatives. The executive started their internal boycott about a month ago.
Coke is also accused of threatening and torturing union workers through these squads in an attempt to halt their trade union activities.
The suit was filed on behalf of Sinaltrainal, the union that represents the workers in Columbia.
Columbia is ranked first in the world for the number of trade union leaders murdered per year. Over 50 union leaders have been killed there this year; last year’s total was 128.
“Columbia just happens to be the most dangerous place in the world right now to be a trade unionist,” said David Mackenzie, executive director of the Steelworkers’ Humanity Fund in Toronto.
The lawsuit will be filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, an act that allows non-American citizens to hold Americans responsible for international law violations.
APUS began their boycott a month ago and will no longer be purchasing Coke.
While unsure whether the boycott will actually have any direct effect on Coca-Cola or its practices, APUS president Emily Sadowski maintains that “we can still send a message.”
Coca-Cola failed to return phone calls; however, spokespeople have denied any connection to any human rights violations in other media interviews.
“We do not own or operate the plants,” said Rafael Fernandez Quiros, company spokesman for Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, in a BBC news article.