Students protest Coca-Cola’s AIDS treatment policies in Africa

For three days this past week, the Williams chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign participated in a Global Day of Action, an international protest against Coca-Cola, Inc. for failing to provide AIDS treatment to all of its workers in Africa. From Wednesday to Friday, the College chapter ran an information campaign on campus and tabled in Baxter in order to collect signatures on a petition calling for Coca-Cola to provide AIDS treatment to all of its employees in Africa.

Coca-Cola’s current program of AIDS treatment began on Sept. 29 only after a great deal of pressure from activists and provides AIDS treatment to eight out of its 40 bottling companies on the African continent. This plan, however, leaves out the majority of the organization’s bottling companies and also does not include the families of the workers.

According to Healy Thompson ’03, one of the members of the Williams chapter, Coke’s program is a form of “medical apartheid” because it only provides health care to a certain class of people. Treatment is only provided for the middle-class administrators and bottlers who have the financial means necessary for the 10 percent co-paying for the disease’s treatment.

“Ultimately we hope that the action at Williams will be part of a worldwide movement that gets Coke to live up to its promises and actually provide AIDS treatment to all of its workers,” Thompson said.

“We believe that by mobilizing Williams students in solidarity with affected and infected people around the world we can get Coke to change their policies,” she continued.

Thompson emphasized that since Williams students are part of the demographic that Coca-Cola is targeting “with its attempts at boosting its image through false promises [of AIDS treatment],” it is important for them to be aware of the Global Day of Action. “We, through our meal plan, our trips to the snack bar, and our visits to vending machines support Coca-Cola and its policies. It is important for students to have a say in which corporations Williams supports,” she said.

Liz Kaplan ’04, another member of the campaign’s College chapter, highlighted its global nature and importance. “It is important for Williams students to be aware of and to take part in the global Day of Action because we are not alone in this endeavor,” she said. “We in the Purple Bubble rarely seem to be able to contribute to activist efforts that so directly relate to the outside world.”

She also mentioned that the corporation has been noting the increase in widespread activism against its treatment of its employees and is likely to meet at least some of the demands sometime soon as a result.

One of the long-term goals of the Williams activists is to eventually remove all products made and sold by Coca-Cola from campus if the company doesn’t change its policies. This move would be accomplished through a base of student support and cooperation with the College administration and the Committee on Shareholder Responsibility.

Overall, Thompson viewed the campaign as a success. The activists collected 275 petition signatures in Baxter, as well as a number of uncounted signatures since some students took the petition to their respective dorms to gain more support.