University of Michigan re-admits Coke

Nearly four months after a high-profile decision to ban Coca-Cola from campus, the University of Michigan is restocking its Coke machines.

The school is one of about 10 that quit buying Coke products because of concerns about the company’s labor practices in Colombia. Michigan is the only one so far to rescind the ban, following a recent decision by Coke that the International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, will conduct a third-party investigation into Coke’s practices in Colombia.

“We respect the reputation and track record of ILO in advancing the rights of workers around the world,” Timothy Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer at the University of Michigan, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Coke. “We have had independent conversations with representatives of ILO, and we are satisfied that their plans for proceeding with the Colombia investigation will be consistent with the goals of our dispute review board.”

Also, figuring into Michigan’s decision, Coke has named a nonprofit organization in India to investigate the company’s environmental practices in that country; Coke has been criticized for its water management policies there.

For several years, student activists across the country have claimed Coke and one of its bottlers had something to do with violence against union organizers in Colombia, including the murder of a worker in a Coke plant in 1996. The company has denied the charges, but the issue keeps getting more attention, thanks to a well-organized, grassroots organization called the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke that is led by longtime labor activist Ray Rogers.