Coca-Cola's multimillion-pound domination of UK university bars and cafeterias is threatened by a student-led campaign for a boycott of its soft drinks amid concerns over deaths and harassment of trade unionists by paramilitaries at its bottling plants in Colombia.
Buoyed by the success last month of University College Dublin students in banning Coca-Cola products, activists aim to topple its near-monopoly on the supply of soft drinks on UK campuses.
Coca-Cola Enterprises, the company's UK subsidiary, has a contract with NUS Services Ltd, giving it access to more than 200 student union bars and cafes, and has "preferred-supplier" status with The University Catering Organisation (Tuco), which represents almost all university catering operations in the UK.
Middlesex University students last week tabled a resolution for the March conference of the National Union of Students demanding an end to the CCE contract.
Representatives of the Colombian trade union Sinantrainal claim that paramilitaries have killed eight union leaders at Coca-Cola plants from 1989-2002.
The THES is unable to verify the claims.
NUS Services Ltd, the purchasing consortium for more than 200 student unions, is partly owned by the NUS, but is a separately run company with its own ethical trading criteria. Chief executive Ian King said: "We will be meeting representatives of Coca-Cola in due course, and this will be an item we will raise with them."
Tuco spokesman Philip Booker, catering services manager at the University of Sussex, said that Coca-Cola achieved the status of "preferred supplier" under open tender governed by regulations determined by the European Purchasing Directives, by which Tuco was bound. The agreement runs until July 2006. Institutions are not obliged to use CCE products.
Coca-Cola said it condemned all acts of violence against trade unionists and its employees in Colombia, and had worked with trade unions to provide extensive safety and security benefits.
Coca-Cola GB spokesman Martin Norris, said: "Although we would not want to get involved in a debate within a university... we do want to get engaged in ensuring our position and the facts are put across."