The fancy new soda machines and bottomless cups in the Marketplace have us consuming our weight in carbonated sugar water. We all know soda is objectively terrible for us. The more of it we drink, the worse we feel. It’s time for us to think about what we put in our bodies, and more importantly, the companies that supply us with those foods and drinks.
Thursday night, Ray Rogers from the “Killer Coke” campaign spoke to students about the alleged abuses of the Coca-Cola Company. He cited poor working conditions and intimidation toward union organizers as reasons that we should ban Coca-Cola products from our campus.
These are serious accusations, and we are by no means in any position to confirm or deny claims that Coke is complicit in the murder and kidnapping of union leaders in Guatemala and Colombia, as Rogers claims. However, these allegations made us pause to think about what kinds of corporate practices we may be tacitly condoning — or even supporting — with our patronage.
We aren’t advocating for a boycott of Coke products — not just yet. What we want is a higher level of scrutiny and transparency when it comes time for their contract to be renewed, or even the consideration of other companies. Why is it such a radical idea only to patronize businesses that treat their employees, the environment and their consumers with respect?
Binghamton University is currently in an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola that requires 90 percent of all beverages sold on campus to be Coke products. The other 10 percent, made up of products such as Snapple and Dr. Brown’s, must be stocked below eye level to discourage customers from purchasing a rival product. This Coke contract will be up for renegotiation soon, and maybe it’s time for the University to start reassessing the criteria for awarding such large and exclusive contracts.
Even if only a fraction of the allegations against Coke, or any other large-scale supplier, are true, then we ought to, as an institution, take these factors into account. Generally, state contracts, like those awarded to Sodexo, Coke and every service provider on campus, are given to the vendor that bids the lowest price for their service. It is a simple and democratizing practice that favors the frugal. It also favors corporations that produce a subpar product in order to deliver their goods and services at minimal expense, sometimes at the cost of human rights.
Coke needs us just as much as we need them. This University represents a huge contract and a huge source of revenue for any service provider. They need our money the way we need a fix of their sweet, sweet carbonated magic. There is no reason that this can’t be a mutually beneficial relationship. But right now, it’s not, and more students need to know the potentially poisonous side effects of what they’re drinking.