Universities threaten to boycott Coca-Cola over Colombia record

NUS vote set for next month
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The NUS will discuss the move at its annual conference in Blackpool next month. A motion to boycott the brand was first brought a year ago and failed to secure sufficient backing. But the NUS agreed to review the issue and discuss it again at the 2006 conference, when another vote will be held.

The concerns centre around Coca-Cola's record in Colombia, where the company has been accused of not doing enough to stop violence against union workers. In the 1990s, eight union leaders were murdered.

However, the NUS's commercial arm, NUS Services Limited (Nussl), is against a boycott. It has a £15m, five-year contract with the US soft drinks company to supply more than 200 bars across the country. That runs out in July, and Nussl wants to draw up a new, three-year contract to replace it.

Nussl's chief executive, Ian King, said: "It is a brand that we would have difficulty doing without. A few years ago we majored on Pepsi, and Coca-Cola still sold very strongly. The deal makes sense. They strongly promote their goods into our market and are giving us a lot of support."

Mr King also pointed out that it was easier to work with companies and help them to change any unsuitable practices, rather than boycott them outright.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, said it was working closely with the NUS but also defended its record in South America. "Coca-Cola has been involved in more than two years of constructive engagement and dialogue with NUS Services Limited," it said in a statement. "During that period, a number of major changes have been made in the way the company operates. We hope that any decision is made based upon facts and appreciation of the many factors involved.

"Coca-Cola bottlers have normal relations with 12 unions in Colombia with collective bargaining agreements in place covering wages, benefits and working conditions for each."

The University of Michigan announced in December that it was removing Coca-Cola products from its campus, one of a number of universities in the US to boycott the $97bn (£55bn) group.

Around 700 student unions across the UK are affiliated to the NUS, which represents around five million students.