Last Wednesday TAPthirst, Tap Drinkers Against Privatization, staged a small demonstration to raise awareness about the extent of bottled water consumption on campus, and educate students and citizens about the consequences. The group piled one hour’s worth of empty water bottles collected from a few Concordia campus buildings, totalling about 360, in front of the statue of Norman Bethune at de Maisonneuve and Guy. The stunt successfully caught the attention of many onlookers, but really was only a small part of a much bigger mobilization the organization is currently pushing: increasing the student input into negotiations for a more sustainable, water-bottle free agreement to replace the university’s contract with PepsiCo when it expires at the end of this year.
After working over the summer to guarantee that students, staff and faculty are able to have some input in negotiations, TAPthirst’s efforts towards student mobilization are now in full swing. According to TAPthirst member Laura Beach, the organization has aligned themselves with Campus Against Corporatization, a new group also working to get students more involved in the contract process.
CAC held a strategizing session in the QPIRG office last Thursday evening, during which ten or so students worked to create a concrete proposal on a “mandate for mobilization” against corporatization. The proposal will be presented at the public assembly on the corporatization of Concordia to be held this coming Thursday, the purpose of which is to discuss how everyone will be effected by the contract, and create a “formal mobilization” against the simple renegotiation of a contract with Pepsi in the coming months.
“The goal will basically be to start combating corporate influence at Concordia by first and foremost tackling this Pepsi contract, mobilizing against it, setting the precedent for what students want when it comes to their university and how they’re treated,” CAC organizer Alex Matak told those at the strategizing session.
Come January, Pepsi’s longstanding, 13-year exclusive contract with Concordia will expire. While this may seem like administrative issue to many students, these groups see it as an opportunity to end the presence of an unsustainable company selling unsustainable products, but also to end a monopoly on student choice in general.
“It sort of dawned on me recently that there sort of seems to be this hole when it comes to mobilization against the contract,” Matak said, adding that other than TAPthirst very few campus groups were speaking out against the exclusivity contract.
Matak also emphasized that the fight does go beyond this one contract. “It has mainly been framed in this sort of way that it’s more of a concern about specifically bottled water and specifically Pepsi,” she said. “I think that’s something that pertains to any kind of grassroots, social justice or student group that exists at Concordia. Anything that has to do with the well-being of the student community is going to be affected by the appearance of these corporate contracts.”
Beach made it clear that CAC is not against corporations themselves, but the corporatization process, a process she says that many “public institutions have undergone, universities especially.”
She also pointed to the importance of the Pepsi contract in asserting student rights in the decisions that will affect them. “This contract is something that affects all of our lives and up until now, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been any university in Canada which has negotiated a contact of this nature with student inclusion.”
Still, for TAPthirst, their mandate to fight for a water bottle-free campus remains a large motivator in their participation in this contract issue. “We want bottled water out of vending machines, out of beverage outlets, and for Concordia to take a stance and say “yes, water is a human right, it was declared a human right by the UN this year,'” Beach said. “Everything in this world depends on water for survival. It’s not something that should be commodified to be bought and sold. It’s not something that corporations should be making billions of dollars of profit off of.”