Students vote to censure Pepsi

by Daniel McCabe

McGill students made it clear in a recent vote that they're uneasy members of the Pepsi generation. The results of the Students' Society of McGill University's annual elections were announced earlier this week and in one of the votes held, students backed a motion calling on SSMU to take a tough stand against the soft drink giant's presence in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Earlier this year, SSMU officials signed a five-year deal with Pepsi giving the company exclusive rights to supply soft drinks at SSMU events and in SSMU-operated buildings. Some student activists voiced their opposition to the deal on the grounds that Pepsi does business with the government of Myanmar, a regime frequently criticized for human rights abuses.

History student Joelle Bolduc led the charge against the Pepsi deal and lobbied for a pair of referendum questions to be added to SSMU's elections. The first question asked if SSMU should censure Pepsi for its Burmese dealings. The second called for the creation of a new financial ethics committee to vet all SSMU business dealings. Students voted in support of both notions.

SSMU president Helena Myers and vice-president (finance) Kelly Remai led the NO forces on both votes. Myers says the financial ethics committee will only "add another layer of red tape to all our business transactions. The SSMU executive already considers things like the ethical conduct of companies we deal with. This committee is only going to slow down the process for no good reason."

Myers fears the Pepsi vote will "open the door wide open to calling on SSMU to take political stands on all sorts of issues. I don't think that's appropriate. That sort of work is best dealt with by human rights organizations. Our primary goal should be to look after student activities and student interests."

Bolduc says the financial ethics committee won't have the authority to veto business transactions, but it will carefully scrutinize all of SSMU's business partners to determine if they are ethically up to snuff. If the committee doesn't agree with a SSMU business partner, "it will recommend an alternative company with better ethics. I'm concerned about the increasing influence major corporations have on our lives. We have to hold them accountable for their activities."

As a result of the vote, Myers says she will have to adopt a hard line against Pepsi. "I will be publicly, repeatedly condemning Pepsi for its involvement in Burma."

Myers successfully prevented another vote from being added to the election, one which could have forced SSMU to terminate its contract with Pepsi. SSMU's judicial board supported Myers on that issue. "If we just tore up our agreement with Pepsi, we might not find another company willing to take its place. And Pepsi could have sued us."

The election results also identified the five students who will become the next SSMU executive. Gay rights activist Chris Carter, a vocal opponent of tuition fee increases, was voted SSMU's president-elect.

Don McGowan, a Tribune columnist and the former director of McGill's Legal Information Clinic will take over the vice-presidency (University affairs). Chantal DaSilva won the race for vice-president (external). Mark Feldman was named vice-president (internal)-elect. Jonathan Chomski was declared the winner in the vote for vice-president (finance), but his competitor Ted Murata is accusing Chomski of election improprieties and is asking SSMU's judicial board to investigate his charges.