On Campus

Going thirsty on campus

National survey notes declining water fountains, increased beverages for sale

Those unwilling to shell out cash for a Coca Cola, may be going thirsty on university campuses, according to a national survey released this week.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), CUPE, and the Polaris Institute set out to investigate corporate presence on Canadian campus with their survey. What they found was that 33 per cent of respondents report noticing a decline in water fountains and 34 per cent noted delays in repairing water fountains. But almost all (94 per cent) knew about the exclusivity contracts between beverage corporations and universities.

One response from Brock University in St. Catharines explained “there are no water fountains” in new buildings on campus, “only Pepsi machines.”

Many campuses have entered exclusivity contracts with beverage companies in order to raise much needed funding. For instance, the University of British Columbia — who was the first Canadian university to enter such a deal — recently renewed a ten-year exclusivity contract with Coca Cola. The company provided approximately $600,000 per year (including $160,000 to the students’ association) to buy the sole right to sell their products on campus. In September 2007, the Alma Mater Society opted out of the contract, offering choice to beverage drinkers in the students’ union building.

The exclusivity contract has been heavily criticized at UBC, after student  paper the Ubyssey filed a freedom of information request to make the contract public. One clause of the contract required UBC to sell 33.6 million beverages in the first eight years of the contract or the last two years would be free of cost to Coca Cola. UBC didn’t come close to passing their sales quota. Criticism also came from those opposed to allegations about Coca Cola’s business practices in developing countries.

Erika Shaker, of the CCPA, believes that decreases in access to drinking water is directly connected to exclusivity contracts. “It is then actually in the university’s best interest to promote consumption of the product as much as you possibly can, and conceivably, limit consumption of the competition,” Shaker told the National Post. “When the competition is tap water, that’s problematic.”

Geoffrey Atkins, associate vice-president of land and building services at UBC called such accusations “conspiracy theories,” explaining that many water fountains are removed when so outdated it’s impossible to buy parts.

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