Students Hope to Play Larger Part in Coca-Cola Negotiations

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UC Berkeley's Contract with Coca-Cola

Assistant University News Editor Emma Anderson speaks with Noor Al-Samarrai about concerns from students with UC Berkeley's contract with Coca-Cola

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As campus officials continue to renegotiate the terms of UC Berkeley's current beverage contract with Coca- Cola, students met Tuesday with a panel of contract negotiators, student government leaders and representatives from the campus Coalition for a Better Beverage Contract to ask for greater transparency and student involvement in future contract negotiations.

Students are concerned that their interests are not being represented in the campus beverage contract - through which Coca-Cola has attained a 98 percent virtual monopoly on campus - expiring in August. Contract negotiators include representatives from a four-unit campus consortium composed of the ASUC Auxiliary, Residential and Student Service Programs, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the Recreational Sports Facility.

Citing their stake in the contract, students at the meeting demanded greater input in issues ranging from campus sustainability efforts to the corporation's use of the campus brand in marketing campaigns and expressed frustration with negotiators' failure to address their concerns.

While no plans have been solidified, the consortium is exploring the possibility of extending the current contract for a year, giving students the opportunity to forward a few key issues for negotiators to work into a request for a proposal that would ensure more transparency and student input.

Rose Whitson, co-director of the ASUC sustainability team, stressed the importance of flexibility as negotiators craft the new contract to take evolving issues of public interest into account.

Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein remarked that only after filing a California Public Records request did the ASUC's Democratic Review Committee - a committee charged with promoting transparency in the campus's dealings - gain access to a non-redacted version of the beverage contract in October, which it has simplified for students.

Kurt Libby, purchasing manager for campus Housing and Dining Services and a current negotiator, was involved in the negotiations that led to the current beverage contract a decade ago and emphasized that the contract should reflect student interests.

However, he added that the campus is "not in as strong a bargaining position as we'd like to be," and the consortium's initial request for more financial incentives in return for extending the contract was rejected by Coca-Cola.

While the possibility to open the contract to other companies by submitting a request for proposal is imminent, it would be "hard to play Pepsi and Coke" - the only major players in a bidding war - against each other because there is not one that is clearly superior to the other in the areas students are focusing on, Libby said.

"When I look at these issues, it's about transparency and engagement," said Kevin Sweeney, a Haas School of Business professor who moderated the panel. "If you move on transparency with a company, you will be able to move forward with them."


Contact Noor Al-Samarrai at [email protected]

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