Several dozen students gathered in Norman Bethune Square yesterday, chanting, “Student voice for student choice!” and, “Bullshit!” in protest of the Concordia administration’s impending signing of a renewed exclusive beverage contract with Pepsico.
“This [current] contract is ending,” explained rally organizer Cameron Stiff, “and there’s another contract on the desk of the VP Services to be signed. And we’re saying, ‘Don’t do this.’”
Roughly forty students staged a sit-in outside the office of food service contractor Hospitality Concordia as the protest wore on, after attempting to occupy the negotiation meetings and being locked out by Concordia security guards.
The student anger stems in part from the lack of consultation between the administration and students on the deal, which will affect all beverages sold in vending machines and cafeterias on campus. Marc Gauthier, Executive Director of Finance and Business Operations at Concordia, met with students from campus environmental groups over the summer to discuss the beverage contract.
According to Concordia student Alex Matak – who was not at the meeting but part of TAPThirst, members of which were in attendance – Gauthier misled students. “He said there would be no negotiations until student representatives had met with Pepsi,” she said, calling his claim “an outright lie.” TAPThirst is a campus group that advocates against privatization. There have been no meetings between student representatives and Pepsico to date.
According to students, the deal also ignores the recommendations of Concordia’s own environmental advisory committee. “How can you plan to be a leader in sustainability if you put money above all other objectives?” said Laura Beach, a rally organizer who spoke at the protest. “And second, what is the use of an environmental advisory committee if you don’t listen to their advice?”
The committee had four primary recommendations: first, that any contract make Concordia bottled water-free; second, that the contract be open to competitive bidders; third, that negotiations be transparent and democratic and include student input; and fourth, that the contract not be exclusive.
Stiff explained that exclusive contracts with large companies are harmful not only to the student body, but also to local food services. “We want to give organic companies and local companies the option of selling their products here on campus,” she said. “And the way the contract is right now, they can’t do that.”
A handful of members from the fledgling Mobilization McGill, which has been active around the closing of the Architecture Café, attended the rally. Much like some of the student activism taking place at McGill, Concordia students are looking to confront the issue of food on campus on more than one level.
“This contract, this thing that they’re doing on Friday, is the tip of an iceberg,” said Matak. “It’s not like this is the only exclusivity contract that Concordia has. It’s probably not the only one they’re ever going to have. This year we’ve signed at least two exclusive contracts with ad companies at Concordia. We have an exclusive contract with Chartwell’s over all of our food. Tuition is being increased and more and more we’re seeing corporations granted exclusive rights over our space, our lives and our money.”
Dana Holtby, a student activist at McGill and a member of TAPThirst, who attended the protest, said Concordia’s food services policy has a lot in common with McGill’s. “We see the same kind of processes…especially with a lack of student consultation,” she said.
Holtby also accused administrations at both schools of behaving as if “the school’s bottom line comes before student needs.”