How ethics and environmental responsibility disappear in finances
If you ever thought that the university stood for independent free thought, for the stewardship of socially responsible practices, for environmental leadership, or for ethical investment, then students, take another look. At Mount Allison University, the administration is proving that the university is nothing more than a corporate entity looking for the lowest cost and the highest return for their finances, no matter what business they are getting money from.
Coke Free Mount A has recently been asking the university to uphold its claims of being an environmental leader and ‘internationally-engaged’ community by ending their contract with Coca-Cola, a corporation with a legacy of human rights and environmental abuses around the world. These human rights abuses extend from collaboration with paramilitary troops in the murder of nine Coca-Cola union leaders in Colombia to the pollution of water supplies in El Salvador and India to the point that the water is no longer drinkable. Three legal cases have been made against Coca-Cola by plaintiffs in both Colombia and Guatemala in the past 10 years, and the government of India has moved to claim $48 million in compensation from Coca-Cola in the pollution of their water resources this past spring.
In an Oct. 27th meeting with Mount Allison University’s VP Administration, David Stewart, and VP International and Student Affairs, Ron Byrne, the university made it clear that its business deals are solely based on securing the highest returns. After presenting the allegations made against Coca-Cola and requesting to see the contract the corporation holds with the university, students were denied access to the contract and were told Mount Allison University procures their contracts by following the guidelines in the Public Purchasing Act of NB, which they stated forces the university to procure contracts from the lowest cost bidder. My question: how did 60 other universities and campuses, mostly from the US and Canada, kick Coke off-campus? Is NB so revolutionary that we are the only province with a public purchasing act like this? Another point of question: the university sells Fair Trade coffee. If the university is forced to go to market and secure the lowest cost bidder, why does the university have Fair Trade coffee? This is assuredly not the cheapest option. But it is the ethical option.
Ultimately, the administration’s suggestion to Coke Free Mount A was this: Boycott Coke. My heart drops at the very thought of backing down to this, as it does not confront the key issue in the whole debate – the blind stance on ethics and on environmental integrity that the university has taken. If the university is to be an institution respected for being both socially conscious and environmentally aware, then I suggest it start with its finances. In the words of some great man of which I do not know, “people vote with their wallets.” If we were to boycott Coke, then some other evil giant will take over the next contract, and the university is in the same position as before. This solves nothing.
It may also come as a shock to students that Coke Free Mount A was told that neither petitions nor a student referendum would change the administration’s mind. We were similarly told that even if the Public Purchasing Policy wasn’t NB law, that they’d still follow these procedures. Mount Allison, as a student of your institution, I am disappointed.