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NYU Administrators and University Senate Members

Letter to NYU Administrators and University Senate Members

February 18, 2014

Dear NYU Administrators and University Senate Members,

In a Washington Square News article, "University revisits past ban on Coca-Cola" by John Ambrosio (2/12/14), inaccurate and misleading statements were attributed to NYU spokesman Philip Lentz and University Senate member Arthur Tannenbaum. To set the record straight, following is my response to both Mr. Lentz and Mr. Tannenbaum.

Mr. Tannenbaum said, "I had no reason or stake in protecting Coca-Cola and never met Mr. Diller. I didn’t know he was on the board at that time." Mr. Tannenbaum’s position that he "had no reason or stake in protecting Coca-Cola" is highly questionable. What is not questionable is, "I didn’t know he [Barry Diller] was on the board at the time." Mr. Tannenbaum is either suffering a lapse of memory or is knowingly lying.

On March 19, 2008, I sent Mr. Tannenbaum a letter and I later spoke to him by telephone about the unfairness of the University Senate scheduling a vote to rescind the ban on Coca-Cola. We only conversed by phone because Mr. Tannenbaum was very adamant in his refusals to meet with me.

In a conversation in 2008, when I stated to Mr. Tannenbaum that a key factor in his role in lifting the ban might have something to do with the fact that Barry Diller, an NYU Trustee, also serves on Coca-Cola’s Board of Directors, he became irate and denied such. One thing is clear: during the process of lifting the ban and well before the ban was lifted, Mr. Tannenbaum knew that Barry Diller served on both boards simultaneously and still does.

During that period, I reiterated to Mr. Tannenbaum the sentiments that were relayed to him in a letter dated April 7, 2008, and signed by alumni who had worked to have Coca-Cola kicked off campus. Why, I wondered, was Arthur Tannenbaum and some members of the University Senate so anxious to introduce a new resolution to rescind the ban based on a false premise and repeated lies by Coca-Cola?

As was pointed out in that April 7 letter to Mr. Tannenbaum, Coca-Cola has never "satisfied the conditions outlined in the Resolution passed by the University Senate on November 3, 2005" that The Coca-Cola Company agree to an independent investigation into allegations of the company’s complicity in human rights violations against SINALTRAINAL union leaders in Colombia.

Just weeks after NYU shockingly lifted its ban on Coca-Cola, Mr. Diller purchased $20-million of Coca-Cola stock. Seven months later, he purchased another $27.6-million worth. Mr. Diller now owns more than $160,000,000 of Coca-Cola Company stock. Is it any wonder that Barry Diller does not speak out against Coke’s injustices? Are NYU administrators and the old boys’ network at NYU helping to shield The Coca-Cola Company and its top policymakers, including its board of directors, from accountability?

The article stated that Mr. Lentz said, "…the decision to lift the ban was based on the corporation’s submission to the demands made when the ban was issued." Mr. Lentz then says, "[The] University Senate revisited the issue in 2009 and lifted the ban after Coke agreed to an independent assessment of its labor relations in Colombia by the International Labor Organization [ILO]…the information distributed by strongly mischaracterizes how these decisions were made."

It is true that Coca-Cola’s CEO Neville Isdell told shareholders at its annual meeting in 2006 that, "We have a document from the ILO signed by the ILO…We have a document. We have an agreement and they are going to investigate past and prior practices…"

It is also true that in an April 10, 2006 letter [page 1] [page 2] to the University of Michigan, Donald Knauss, then-President of Coca-Cola North America stated: "On March 2nd, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) announced that it requested the International Labor Organization (ILO) to investigate and evaluate past and present labor relations and workers’ rights practices of the Coca-Cola bottling operations in Colombia…Our company supports the IUF in this effort and, in fact, sent our own request for an investigation to the ILO…On March 24, the ILO agreed to conduct the investigation and evaluation and is beginning the process of finalizing its scope, protocol and timing…Questions concerning the ILO investigation and evaluation should be directed to Ms. Sally Paxton, Executive Director, Social Dialogue (011-41-22-799-6332)."

What is also true is that both Mr. Isdell and Mr. Knauss lied. Ms. Paxton from ILO’s headquarters in Geneva very emphatically told me that the ILO never agreed, under any circumstances, to investigate past labor practices of Coca-Cola in Colombia or any allegations of murder or other violence against union leaders representing Coca-Cola workers there. In the documentary film, "The Coca-Cola Case," produced by the National Film Board of Canada, there is a scene filmed in Colombia in which an ILO representative is being interviewed. He stated that the ILO was not doing any such investigation.

In complete contradiction to Mr. Isdell and Mr. Knauss, Ron Oswald, General Secretary of the IUF, when asked by British author Mark Thomas about Mr. Isdrell’s statement, said, "Well, he was wrong and they know he was wrong…we did not ask them [ILO] to do an investigation into criminal and murderous events…I don’t think they have the competence to do that, frankly…there are still calls for Coke to agree to an independent investigation of those incidents and that’s something we thought Coke should have agreed to many years ago."

In 2007, the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald reported: "Employers led by Coca-Cola executive [Ed Potter] stopped the International Labour Organisation examining violations of workplace rights in Colombia…" (Potter, Director of Global Workplace Rights for The Coca-Cola Company, for about two decades has served as the U.S. employer representative to the ILO and is the international business spokesman on the Applications of Conventions and Recommendations Committee at the annual ILO conference).

I don’t know if Mr. Lentz was aware of this "investigation" charade concocted by Coca-Cola, but Arthur Tannenbaum and Barry Diller certainly knew about it. The assessment Mr. Lentz refers to has no resemblance to the "investigation" that Coca-Cola’s top executives claimed the ILO, the IUF and The Coca-cola Company had agreed to and what the University Senate Resolution demanded.

It’s long past time that New York University get the facts straight, live up to its mistakes and rectify this miscarriage of justice perpetrated by Coca-Cola and which NYU either swallowed hook, line and sinker or was an accomplice in. That is owed to the victims of Coca-Cola’s human rights abuses, past and present, and to the students and faculty members who worked so hard on passage of the resolution aimed at stopping violence and protecting human rights.

I’ll repeat what I said in my previous letter to NYU administrators and University Senate members: You should consider the potential ramifications of NYU continuing to side with scofflaw Coca-Cola and it would be in the best interests of the university to act quickly and rectify this matter.

For those of you who missed my earlier letter and accompanying campaign brochure entitled "Scandals and Lack of Ethics Plague NYU" or missed last Wednesday’s Washington Square News article, please visit the home page of and click on the button, "NYU: Dump Coke, Dump Diller" on the right side of the menu.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Peace & Justice,

Ray Rogers
Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
Corporate Campaign, Inc.

(718) 852-2808

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