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By Vanessa Santilli

University students across Ontario caused fax-machine gridlock at the main offices of soft-drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi last Wednesday, in protest to the companies’ alleged human rights and environmental abuses and university exclusivity contracts.

Ten universities across the province continually faxed Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s Canadian head offices the same piece of paper, which outlined the students’ concerns, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. All campuses involved in the fax jam are currently locked in exclusivity contracts with one of the two cola companies.

The Eyeopener obtained Ryerson’s five-year exclusivity contract in January, which revealed that Coca-Cola Bottling Company is paying Ryerson $765,000 to be the reigning king of pop on campus.

The Working Students’ Centre faxed on behalf of Ryerson students.

Sanjid Anik, education and campaign coordinator for the centre said the purpose of the jam was to let these companies know that students don’t want to be locked into contracts and are concerned about the companies’ alleged inhumane practices.

“We want to have choices, no monopoly. We don’t want to be bound to only Coke,” he said.

Anik is hoping that initiatives like the fax jam will make Ryerson come out of the contract which is up for renewal in 2009.

The fax asked Coke and Pepsi to acknowledge their alleged represiion of workers trying to unionize in Turkey and Columbia, as well as recognize the pollution that factories in India are said to be causing.

The U.S.-based Stop Killer Coke campaign group cites that since 1989, seven union leaders and one plant manager employed at Coca-Cola bottling operations have been murdered by right-wing paramilitary groups in Columbia.

The group’s website also says that “hundreds of other Coke workers and their family members have been tortured, kidnapped and/or illegally detained by violent paramilitaries, often working closely with plant managements.”

The Polaris Institute, an independent corporate watchdog group, based in Ottawa, organized the jam.

Stephanie Baxter, a representative for Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Toronto, said the company’s responses to the issues are posted on www.cokefacts.com.

Most of the explanations on the site maintain that allegations of human rights and environmental abuses are not founded.

Baxter said Coke is always willing to hear the concerns of students, who are, after all, some of their biggest customers.

“We’re always willing to work with universities. Keeping an open dialogue with these organizations is very important to us,” she said.

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