The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the National Union of Students (NUS) has put forward a motion affirmimg its August 2014 decision to “cut all ties” with the Coca Cola Company, as part of their commitment to their campaign policy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and the newly-elected NUS President Megan Dunn has been censured for having broken the policy.
In a new motion, the union’s executive seeks to affirm that this boycott policy applies to Coca Cola Enterprises and demands that the NEC “cut all ties” with the company. It is understood that the policy in relation to Coca Cola has not been implemented yet in practice.
Coca-Cola is currently included on the target list of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. The BDS movement seeks to increase economic and political pressure on Israel and to support Palestinian interests through various forms of boycott.
Cherwell is seeking clarification from the NUS as to whether this policy will be applied to other products owned by Coca Cola, which include Fanta, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, Schweppes and Evian, amongst others, as well as what is expected of affiliated student unions, such as OUSU, under this policy.
The BDS policy commits the NUS to “ensuring that, as far as is practical, NUS does not employ or work with companies identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity, and to actively work to cut ties with those that do”.
However, 150 sabbatical officers have in recent days signed an open letter calling on the NEC “to reject motion 11 to boycott Coca Cola”.
The letter declared, “Instead of seeking to improve our student’s lives, this motion seeks to play politics and undermine the National President.”
It also stated that its signatories expect “a national Union which represents us as the constituent members of NUS” and that decisions that affect its students “should be taken by us and not NEC”.
Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) is not among the student unions which have signed the letter.
The NUS executive has also voted to censure its newly elected President Megan Dunn for having accepted a sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola for this year’s annual NUS awards ceremony.
The motion criticised, “Dunn’s refusal to accept that Coca Cola is a target of the BDS movement or to release an apology for accepting their sponsorship.” It reportedly passed by 20 for, 14 against and two abstentions.
In the NUS rules, a censure vote is described as a criticism of the individual or group and an indication that the body is unhappy with their work. However it is less serious than a vote of no confidence, which demands that the President is removed.
As a result of the sponsorship deal accepted by Dunn, a number of Senior officers boycotted the NUS Awards 2015 ceremony, held on July 8th in Bolton.
This included Malia Bouttia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, Maddy Kirkman, the NUS Disabled Students’ Officer and Piers Telemacque, the NUS Society and Citizenship VP, amongst six other major officials.
Those officials who decided not to attend said in a statement, “The acceptance of this sponsorship from Coca Cola Enterprises Ltd. is a direct violation of our current BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Campaign policy, and we are seriously concerned at the message this sends out, and the precedent it sets, with regards to NUS’ democratic policy and its commitment to ethics and the environment.”
Regarding the reason behind boycotting Coca Cola, the statement explained, “The Central Bottling Company Ltd, which operates the Israeli franchise of Coca Cola as ‘Coca Cola Israel’ from production to distribution Coca-Cola, operates factories of the illegal Israeli settlements of Atarot, Shadmot, and in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
“There is thus a clear, direct line of accountability whereby Coca Cola, through its operations in Israel, is active within illegally occupied territory, in the process keeping occupation a viable exercise for the Israeli state. The responsibility thus lies on NUS to implement its policy and break ties with the company until it at the very least ends complicity in the Israeli occupation.”
“The ‘official’ NUS statement released today mentions that the BDS Movement website states Coca Cola as not being ‘[a priority] for the BDS movement at this stage’. This is not because Coca Cola is not complicit/a target, but because priority campaigns are selected based on their ability to gain traction within wider society and have most impact. As such the list of priorities provided by the Movement is not exhaustive, nor prescriptive.”
Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, commented, “NUS accepting Coca Cola Enterprises Ltd’s sponsorship for the NUS Awards broke the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy that we had voted on twice.
“Myself and a number of NUS Vice Presidents communicated this to the President two weeks before the event and asked for an apology to be released to our membership for accepting the sponsorship, and to committing NUS to avoid doing so in future.
“These terms were initially accepted by the President but she then backtracked on them the night before the NUS’ SU2015 event, and went ahead releasing a misleading statement with no apology, despite the opposition of numerous officers, and even with input from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee who co-ordinate the BDS campaigns”
She continued by explaining that the saga reflected “very poorly on NUS as an organisation” in “exposing a democratic deficit” where the President sees fit to overrule policy and “by placing profit over principle”.
She added, “We got involved with the student movement on the basis of principles such as social justice, ethical practice, democracy and liberation – and we know most others do too. We expect the National Union and our President to act in the spirit of these, and if they fail to do so we will take it upon ourselves to live by what NUS preaches.”
“The censure was passed based on the President’s actions regarding the affair, as well as her complete unwillingness to engage with her officers or other representatives since.”
The NUS told Cherwell that they are yet to decide whether to release a new statement regarding the boycott of Coca Cola.
Megan Dunn and OUSU President Becky Howe have been contacted for comment.
Coca-Cola Enterprises was unavailable for comment.