Students taught Pepsi a lesson in human rights

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By Angeline Damianidis 

In the battle over cola supremacy at university campuses, an ethical conflict has been raging for years at schools such as Carleton University.

In 1993, Carleton students launched an attack on Pepsi over its business practices in Burma.  Carleton University had a deal with Pepsi, making it the only cola available on campus.

Student group OPIRG-Carleton discovered Pepsi was operating in Burma, which is ruled by a military dictatorship.  Burmese students who had fled the country’s regime were calling for a boycott of Pepsi, along with other companies dealing with Burma.

Carleton student used the Internet to spread messages criticizing the company.  Posters printed with the corporation’s logo, address and the CEO’s toll-free number were distributed on campus.  “Pepsi, killers of a whole generation,” read one of the slogans.

Word quickly spread to other North American universities.  Other Canadian post-secondary schools, such as McGill University, the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph, joined the boycott.

“Pepsi was losing a lot more than their million-dollar deals,” said Corinne Baumgarten, co-ordinator of Canadian Friends of Burma, who was heavily involved in the boycott.  “It was losing its image and potential profit.”

After a story in The New York Times and continued pressure from other campus groups, Pepsi severed all its ties with Burma on May 31, 1997.

Pepsi’s retreat was cited as a major victory for student activists.  By then, the boycott had taken its toll on Pepsi’s popularity on campuses.  Students at Harvard University rejected a $1 million deal with the corporation, and the firm lost $800,000 after Stanford University students blocked a campus Taco bell, a subsidiary of Pepsi.

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