Students Sit-In Against Renewal

ConU Moves Forward with PepsiCo Negotiations

A protest against the Concordia administration’s “lack of transparency” in negotiating with PepsiCo. turned into a three hour sit-in on Oct. 27. Photo Christopher Curtis

Nearly 40 students occupied the ninth floor of Concordia’s GM building on Oct. 27 to protest the university’s agreement to extend its contract with PepsiCo. as the exclusive provider of on-campus beverages.

Sustainable Concordia and TAPthirst Concordia—two student groups that are calling for an end to bottled water on campus and transparent negotiations of the agreement—organized a protest hours after hearing the university planned on renewing their contract with PepsiCo.

“This is bullshit,” said TAPthirst co-founder Laura Beach to a crowd of about 80 people outside the GM building. Beach said she had been assured by Concordia administration that the university would not sign an agreement with PepsiCo. before consulting with students first.

In June, Hospitality Concordia Director Joanne De Cubellis wrote to Beach informing her that the university would not pursue contract negotiations with PepsiCo. until a meeting was arranged between Concordia administration and TAPthirst. The meeting never occurred.

On Oct. 26, outgoing Concordia VP Services Michael Di Grappa informed The Link that PepsiCo. had been negotiating with the university over the summer and that an agreement in principle had been reached “some time ago.”

The demonstration quickly turned into a sit-in when students marched up the GM building’s stairwells and outside of Hospitality Concordia’s offices, where a representative from Nestlé Canada spoke to university officials and CSU members on behalf of Canadian Bottled Water Association.

According to Sustainable Concordia, 5,800 single-use plastic water bottles are thrown out at the university each day, making bottled water the second biggest source of waste on campus. A study, conducted by Sustainability Concordia earlier this year, also found that less than 10 per cent of the empty bottles were recycled.

“The university has a strong commitment to sustainability and has been speaking with representatives of the [bottled water] industry to determine whether offering bottled water contravenes our principles,” wrote Concordia Spokesperson Chris Mota in an Oct. 28 press release.

“Why is there a contract to renew this [beverage agreement] when Concordia says it wants to be a leader in sustainability?” asked Cameron Stiff, of Sustainable Concordia, about the university’s Environmental Policy, which was made official on Oct. 7, 2007.

“Give us a fair, non-exclusive contract; walk your talk.”

Mota said that students are confusing the PepsiCo. contract with the issue of bottled water.

“We can have bottled water removed from vending machines after signing the contract with PepsiCo.,” said Mota. “This was just a business decision.”

Several hours after the Oct. 27 meeting and sit-in began, De Cubellis and other administrators walked past students, refusing to answer their questions or even acknowledge them.

Concordia’s Oct. 28 press release addressed the sit-in, accusing students of “creating a safety hazard, intimidating staff in their workspace, taking their pictures and disrupting university business operations.

“These kinds of tacticts do nothing to promote dialogue and are unacceptable in an institution which fosters civil discourse, especially on contentious issues.”

CSU VP Sustainability and Promotions Morgan Pudwell, however, spoke of one of the meeting’s positive outcomes.

“There’s going to be a public forum in November, where students can speak to [Concordia President] Judith Woodsworth and a representative from the bottled water industry,” she said. “They can’t deny that there are a huge group of people—students, faculty and staff, focused on health, sustainability or environmental issues—that have said this contract is something that needs to be discussed.

“I don’t think they realize how strong they’ve made this movement now.”

Pudwell also said a working group comprised of members of the CSU, the Dean of Students Office, the Environmental Advisory Committee and Concordia administration would be formed to hash out revisions to the university’s bottled water policy.

—with files from Ray Corkum and Laura Beeston

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 12, published November 2, 2010.