Coca-Cola is banned from students' union over 'unethical practices'

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Sussex University has become the first campus in the country to ban all Coca-Cola products from its students' union in protest at the company's allegedly unethical practices. Other campuses are expected to follow suit, amid calls for a nationwide student boycott of the soft drinks giant.

The decision to withdraw Coca-Cola from the university comes at a time when its products have already been banned in schools, as concerns rise about rates of obesity among children. Universities in the US have also banned Coca-Cola and a quarter of states in India have outlawed products following concerns that they contain 27 times the permitted levels of pesticides.

Campaigners also claim that bottling plants in India have depleted local water tables and deprived farmers of their livelihoods. In Colombia and other South American states, the company has been accused of ignoring anti-union abuses at its factories.

Dan Glass, the president of Sussex University's students' union, said: "We had objections to Coca-Cola on the grounds of health but the really big things were the anti-union practices in Colombia and the environmental damage they have done in India ... Our ultimate goal is to make Coca-Cola accountable for the crimes it has committed, but by banning all its products from the campus, we can hit them where it hurts them most - in the wallet."

Coca-Cola products will be withdrawn from all the campus bars from next week and replaced with organic colas, as well as the Virgin soft drinks range.

Other universities, including Middlesex, Leeds, Portsmouth and theUniversity of East Anglia, are planning to remove products from their campuses.

The National Union of Students is investigating the allegations surrounding the company following an emergency resolution at its annual conference in June.

Students' unions belong to a purchasing consortium called NUS Services Limited (NUSSL), which supplies food, drinks and other goods to campuses at low prices. But the NUSSL contracts limit the choice of products the unions can buy and the Sussex students found it hard to get the consortium to agree to the withdrawal of Coca-Cola. NUSSL has four multimillion-pound contracts with Coca-Cola.

UK Students Against Coca-Cola, a pressure group, hopes the investigation will lead to the NUSSL terminating all its contracts with Coca-Cola.

Mary Rayner of Ethical Consumer magazine said: "People have so much more information now about what companies like Coca-Cola are doing around the world and increasingly they are realising that they do have an alternative." Coca-Cola comes bottom of the magazine's "ethiscore" table that rates soft drinks on ethical principles, with a score of three out of 20. She added: "It has been very slow to address the ethical concerns, partly because it is so big that it may think it just doesn't need to do anything."

Despite plummeting sales in the fizzy drinks market as a whole, Coca-Cola's worldwide profits rose by 8 per cent in the first half of this year. And sales in the UK rose by "single digits" after a drastic fall over the last few years.