Discourse / Editorials / Killer Coke / November 5, 2009

A question of rights

On the agenda of the last student senate meeting was a resolution to kick Coca-Cola off Knox. The presentation was organized by members of Students Without Borders, Knox Chapter. The presentation detailed the atrocities that the Coca-Cola Corporation has been responsible for across the globe.

For instance, they have been responsible for murdering union leaders in Latin America and depleting water resources in India to operate their plants. They were even able to open a fully operational factory in Sudan, even though there have been economic sanctions imposed on the country due to mass suppression of Sudanese people by their government (Coca-Cola claimed that their product is an agricultural product and since agricultural products, medicine and medical equipment are exempt from the sanction, they were able to go ahead with their business). The goal was to get a resolution passed in senate so that it could be taken to the administration for further talks, and probably bid farewell to Killer Coke.

During the discussion that followed the presentation, senators who were against passing the resolution resonated that this was fringing upon Knox students’ consumer choice rights. Even though 30 percent of the student body signed the petition agreeing to see Coke leave campus, opposing senators were concerned that the rest 70 percent of the student body probably still wanted coke. It was very important for certain senators to protect their constituents’ free choice to access and get whatever they desired. Our rights as consumers at Knox need to be protected so we can get what we want, and to hell with how the product was produced since we are isolated and distant from that issue all together.

Let’s talk free choice. Let’s talk business as usual and ethics. But let’s change whose free choice we talk about and discuss, the worker’s free choice. When a production factory is set up in any area of land (be within urban or rural places) the city, town, state and or federal government makes the decision. The people in the community generally do not get a say in this decision (if they do not have the money or lobbyists to sway the decision differently), and have to generally organize themselves to oppose the location of production unit. At times the peoples are in dire, impoverished conditions and would feel that the factory would provide a livelihood. They work for long hours, low wages (even in relative terms for their country), and receive few but mostly no benefits. It must be strongly emphasized that industrial changes and business operations/practices are institutionalized.

When the Green Revolution reorganized production in most developing agro-based economic nations, it was carried out in coordination with the state and national governments along with the philanthropic Rockefeller Foundation (based out of NYC) and the Ford Institute, pushing for petro-intensive, large scale, genetically modified crop farming. Now farmers face low productivity, low soil fertility and impoverishment. Suicide rates among Indian farmers are increasing (unsettling, but true: farmers in India are ingesting the same chemical fertilizers that they use on their crops to kill themselves and their families who can no longer survive off their land). When NAFTA was signed under the Clinton administration for free trade flow of products, it came along with large US subsidies provided to US domestic farmers, thus giving unfair advantage to US producers over those in Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security and not any trade or economic agency now handles immigration of Mexican workers. So where is the free choice of the workers to decide how production is practiced? Let’s look locally, here in Galesburg itself. NAFTA led to factories moving to Mexico, leaving many unemployed here in town, and no other industry has really replaced those that have left. And to make matters even worse, most of the production units moved to Mexico have shut down too.

Now time to talk about out free choice as Knox consumers. There is an opinion that is held by a large number of students at Knox (along with the editors of TKS) that consumers should be the ones who choose what to purchase by making an educated choice. Many Knox students drink alcohol and some smoke tobacco, both legal products that can be bought in stores around the country. I do not know how many people subscribe to/view pornography on this campus, but it is legal too. Yet we do not see the college operated C-Store carry alcohol, tobacco or porn (our college has to have a liquor license since it serves alcohol at certain events held on campus). If you want to argue age restrictions, our college ID’s have our date of birth (and statistically a majority of students coming in as first years are 18, the legal age to buy tobacco and porn in this country). Are their certain moral and ethical standards that the store abides by, and thus these products are not available? If this is the case, why could they not extend this policy to other products too? (Since I do not know the exact reason as to why these products are not sold, if someone does, could they please inform me?) And if students should be allowed to exercise their right of free choice, where are the abundance and accessibility to other options?

The cause has been attacked that if we are to ban Coca Cola, then we also have to go ahead and ban all other corporations that follow unethical and immoral practices. True! If we are to establish a “sustainable” campus, it also includes rethinking and reorganizing the corporations we wish to deal with and the choices we provide to the campus. This is a small step towards that goal. Our college Dining Services has a large contract with Pepsi (which in my opinion is not much better), so if we can not successfully challenge one with lesser economic stakes involved, how will we progress further?

Use of we also includes myself, a member of the Knox Community.

Email Samir at sbakhsi@knox.edu

Samir Bakhshi

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