This week, I nearly thought that the National Union of Students did something honourable.
I was checking Twitter before going to sleep on Monday night when I found out the NUS - the organisation that claims to represent me and hundreds of thousands of other students (unless NUS executives don't agree with them) - condemned its president for not wanting to take Coca-Cola off campus. The corporate behemoth with a deathlike grip on the soft drinks industry around the world was soon to be gone from our universities for the foreseeable future, I rejoiced.
I rejoiced right up until the point I found out why.
The NUS don't like the government of Israel, and Coca-Cola have built a plant or two in disputed Palestinian territory, so the NUS cautioned their President for her dealings with Coke - all despite an open letter from over 50 separate student unions asking the NUS to reject the motion.
There are plenty of reasons not to like the government of Israel. But to think that Coca-Cola are big players in a territory dispute is silly, and to think that boycotting them will do a great deal of damage to the Israeli government is naïve.
Coke, after all, has bottling plants in almost every territory it operates in (that's why it can taste different from country to country). Not buying Coke in the UK is mostly going to hurt those working in Britain.
But the reason I'm really disappointed is because there are so many better and valid reasons for supporting a boycott of Coca-Cola. Rather than worrying about geopolitical issues that are frankly beyond their limited output, the executives at the NUS should be asking themselves:
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke in 2003, when it sold toxic chemicals to Indian farmers as fertiliser?
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke in 2005, when it tried to stifle competition and bully small store owners in Mexico?
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke in 2006, following a series of human rights lawsuits issued by Colombian workers?
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke in 2009, when Chinese students were allegedly beaten while working undercover in the company's factories?
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke in 2012, after The Independent revealed it was underpaying migrant workers in Italy?
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke in 2013, when it was revealed to be so unhealthy that it contributed to the death of a woman in New Zealand?
- Why didn't the NUS boycott Coke last year, when it was convicted of depriving Indian communities of water?
All of the above are practices that should be of interest to a student union: health, pay, workers' rights.
Yet it's only because Coke are involved in Israel, a country the NUS don't like, that they've decided to condemn them. No wonder some Jewish students feel targeted:
This incident is just one of many that has sparked bitter (but most notably pointless) infighting amongst an NUS completely out of touch with the students it claims to represent. Perhaps it's time for the 50 student unions that signed the opposing letter to look for an alternative...