As Green Week arrives at Brunel on Monday, the Brunel Green Society and Brunel Friends of Palestine have organised a protest against the Union's invitation to Coca Cola to join the campaign.
According to the UBS-organised Green Week bill of events, Coca Cola will be stationing a 'Pledge Wall' outside the Hamilton Centre on Monday 9 February. Two campus groups have responded by planning to stage a protest in the same spot.
The Green Week line up also includes environment workshops and a 'recycled fashion' event hosted by Brunel Fashion Society.
Ali Milani, who is helping to organise the protest, to be held outside of the Hamilton Centre, has released a statement:
The Friends of Palestine and Brunel Green society are planning a demonstration against the decision by VPCW Leon Evans and Environmental Chair Mehvish Maghribi to invite Coca Cola onto Campus for Green Week. Coca Cola have been involved in a multitude of environmental abuses and are directly complicit in the illegal occupation of the internationally recognised Palestine. They also have been involved in the murders of Union Activists in South America.
We call on all students to join us in this protest to remind our Students' Union of their ethical responsibilities when collaborating with any external company.”
There are many ethical complaints against Coca Cola which date back for years. These range from allegations in 2001 in Columbia after the company was sued by union labourers for violence against un-unionised labourers, complaints in 2005 in Guatemala after workers claimed to be treated violently by staff in a bottling plant there, and as recently as last year in India where one of their bottling plants was deemed “over-exploited”. Campaigns in India have been particularly successful with plans worth $25 million to expand this factory stopped due to protest. Although not always widely publicised, it seems clear that Coca Cola has been the source of campaigns and protests for a long time, including KillerCoke which has achieved some levels of success in American Universities over the last few years.
The Green Society and Friends Of Palestine are opposing the conglomerate's visit for different reasons. The Green Society is protesting Coca-Cola because of an alleged history of environmental scandals. In India in 2010 Coca-Cola was asked to pay $47m (£31.2m) in compensation for alleged environmental damage caused at a bottling plant in southern India. The company is accused of depleting the groundwater in the area, as well as damaging farmland and the local environment, by dumping waste between the years 1999 and 2004, although Coca-Cola claimed the charges were unfounded. This is one of the most notable environmental complaints against the company, the biggest soda distributor in the world, but by no means not the only one.
Brunel Friends of Palestine’s objection to the company comes from Coca-Cola's support of Israel. Coca Cola has openly supported the state for years, controversially co-hosting a reception for Israeli Brigadier-General Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in 2009, maintained ties with the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, as well as suggestions that they own a dairy farm in occupied territory. After a heated debate at an Annual General Meeting, UBS recently agreed to supporting a BDS motion on campus.
The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign started in 2005, with boycotting Israel being an element of the movement which changes in popular priority depending on the current Israel-Palestine situation. 'BDS On Campus' calls for a refusal from the Union to purchase Israeli goods and support Israeli companies, until they stop violating human rights laws in Palestine. While Coca-Cola is not an Israeli company, and as such their products are still sold, their clear support of Israel makes them, in the eyes of many, an unwelcome and contentious choice to speak on campus.
Coca-Cola, despite their support for Israel, have continued to operate in Palestine. They released a statement on their company website:
In December 2013, we announced our plans to increase our Palestinian investment and will open a new bottling plant in Gaza in 2015 which represents a $20m investment and will create 120 direct jobs while supporting a further 1,200 indirect jobs throughout our value chain..."
The two societies are staging the march as part of FOA's #NotInMyFridge campaign. Launched in December 2014, Friends of Al-Aqsa Peace in Palestine’s hashtag successfully trended, becoming the 8th most used hashtag that day in the UK. Whilst claiming to support Palestine, Coca Cola also claim to be working on the company's environmental credentials. But for the FOAs, and the Brunel Green and Friends of Palestine Societies campaign, this is clearly not enough.
Coca Cola Enterprises' headquarters are based in Uxbridge, and earlier this month a sculpture designed by Brunel design students was unveiled outside the building. Brunel University London posted the following on their Facebook account:
Postgraduate Design students Sophie Dobber, Philip Hawthorne, Robert Hulse, Chloe Eunsung Kim, Milena Kukova and Matthew Said created the stainless steel design by drawing inspiration from Coca-Cola's iconic ribbon logo. CCE approached our Engineering and Design department with a brief of creating an installation for their new head office which reflected CCE’s environmental and social values and vision.
Hubert Patricot, Coca-Cola Enterprises Executive Vice President and President, European Group, added: “We’re delighted to be officially unveiling ‘The Happiness Tree’ today at Enterprises House. This design project with Brunel University London brought together two key focus areas for CCE – sustainability, and supporting young people. We have worked closely with Brunel to make the original concept a reality and the resulting installation is an exciting piece of modern sculpture that creatively signifies our company’s values and our vision.”
The protest will be held on Monday 9 February from at 11 a.m. outside the Hamilton Centre where Coca Cola will be providing a Be Green pledge wall. If you wish to join the protest, you can find more information on their Facebook event.
The Union Of Brunel Students has been approached for comment, and upon providing it this article will be updated.