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Updated 10:00 AM February 5, 2007




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Coca Cola assessments continue to make progress

The independent third-party assessments of the Coca Cola Company's labor practices in Colombia, and water resource usage in India continue, says a senior University administrator.

"The assessment of the water resources issues in India appears to be on track, but the process in Colombia is taking longer than we had hoped," says Associate Vice President for Finance Peggy Norgren. "Coca Cola does appear to be cooperating in the investigations in accordance with their agreement with the University."

Norgren hopes to see some initial findings by late winter or early spring. "While we look forward to the results of the investigations, we recognize that these are complicated issues and that the assessments may not result in clear conclusions about Coca Cola's culpability with regard to the problems."

In 2005, Coca Cola was alleged to have violated the University's Vendor Code of Conduct (VCC) in India and Colombia. The company was accused of improper bio-waste disposal, depleting water resources and allowing pesticides to make their way into products in India, as well as questionable labor practices in Colombia, including claims of threats, violence, kidnapping and murder against members of the bottler's union.

Independent assessments were called for by the University's Dispute Review Board, a faculty-led committee including students and staff, which looks into possible violations of U-M's Vendor Code of Conduct.

U-M suspended the purchase of Coca-Cola products Jan. 1, 2006 when the soft drink company was not able to proceed with an independent, third party review of its labor and environmental concerns at its bottling plants in Colombia and India. The University indicated that it would resume purchasing if the details of an independent, third-party investigation in Colombia could be resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties, and if both could agree on the process for a third party review of environmental concerns in India.

The University and Coca Cola agreed in April 2006, following the temporary purchasing suspension, that the International Labor Organization (ILO), an independent agency of the United Nations, would investigate and evaluate past and present labor relations and workers' rights practices of Coca-Cola bottling operations in Colombia.

In June 2006 a tripartite agreement among the ILO, the IUF—an international union of food, farm and hotel workers—and the Colombian government, set up a framework for the ILO presence in Colombia. It included the modes of communication with management, workers, unions and other stakeholders, says Kari Tapiola, executive director, Office of Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Sector, ILO.

Norgren says that although the negotiation of the tripartite agreement slowed the Colombian assessment process, it should ultimately make it smoother.

The third-party investigation of water resource management practices at Coca Cola bottling plants in India is being conducted by The Energy Resources Institute (TERI), an India-based non-profit organization with more than 30 years of experience and leadership on sustainability issues. To further ensure the independence of the investigation, the Meridian Institute, a non-profit organization that provides mediation services, is acting as a broker in the monitoring and funding (provided by Coca Cola) of the TERI assessment process

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