Four student officers from the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) have refused to accept an award at Wednesday night’s NUS Awards in protest at Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the event. Instead of accepting the Diversity Award, given in recognition of UUEAS’s equality campaigns and policies, Liam McCafferty, Yinbo Yu, Chris Jarvis and Jo Swo walked on to the stage carry a banner reading “Boycott Coca-Cola: free Palestine”.
This protest was due to Coca-Cola Enterprises operating factories in Israeli settlements in Palestine. This was seen by various NUS members as a breach of the its current boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign policy. The policy – agreed by the National Executive Council in August 2014 and brought to the UEA SU Council in April 2015 – commits the NUS to ensure that it 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”.
Coca-Cola’s sponsorship led to the withdrawal of support from the event from some members of the NUS Officer team and the National Executive Council. Discussions were held between the NUS President and members of this dissatisfied group of delegates, however no satisfactory outcome was reached before the date of the awards (8th of July). The NUS released a statement that states Coca Cola is not currently “a priority for the BDS movement at this stage”. However, various issues have been raised by members of the NUS, the BDS movement and the student protest movement in general about Coca-Cola’s level of ethical working practices in numerous countries. In a joint statement, members of the NUS’s National Executive Council (NEC), along with a number of officers from affiliated unions, said that they were “concerned at the message that this [Coca Cola’s sponsorship] sends out”. They demand that the NUS “break ties with the company until it at the very least ends complicity in the Israeli occupation.
“We found it concerning that NUS remains so resolutely ‘loyal’ to a company with such a poor ethical and environmental record, and that NUS was willing to accept money from such a company whilst simultaneously parading its own ethical commitments and claiming to champion fighting for equality and liberation for students and standing in solidarity with other marginalised groups”.
Yu, UUEAS’s Activities and Opportunities Officer, told Concrete that the officers’ decision to refuse the award was “not to downplay the amazing work our officers, staff, and volunteers have undertaken over the last year”. He also pointed to the “massive strides [we have] taken forward in improving the lives of our students”. Jarvis, Campaigns and Democracy Officer, said: “We believe that democracy should be at the heart of the national student movement… This is why, in line with our own Union of UEA Students policy in support of the BDS movement, and in solidarity with the nine NUS Full-time officers and 11 other members of the NUS NEC, we have chosen to withdraw our support from the NUS Awards 2015”.
UUEAS is expected to release a full statement late today.