Warwick Union Council voted on Monday 7 November to place an ethical boycott on the sale of Bacardi rum in Students’ Union outlets.
The Union Council condemned Bacardi’s business practices, which they claim are “actively harming the Cuban economy and causing great suffering for the Cuban people.” The SU will be investigating other brands of rum which could replace it.
Students are highly divided over the ban, which many see as undemocratic. Some see the decision as passed by only a small group of students, with no great attempt to consult the wider student body. They believe that the decision to boycott Bacardi was carried out without extensive consultancy with others or consideration for how the ban would be implemented and its full effects.
The Union noted that “Bacardi founded and funds the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which is implicated in terrorist bombings and sabotage against Cuba.” They reinforce that Warwick SU should not have dealings with companies that fund terrorism.
It was also noted that CANF “has given support to oppressive governments, such as those that existed in Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador, and terrorist groups such as the Contras in Nicaragua and death squads in Colombia.”
Finally, claims were made that “Bacardi claims itself to be Cuban, which in effect is fraudulent and untrue”, as the company’s activities occur outside Cuba.
The Students’ Union resolves to put the boycott in place as soon as is practical; however, at the time of print, there was no detail available about how this will be done.
The current understanding is that the selling of Bacardi products in the Union will be slowly phased out, and after it has run out no more will be ordered. The Bacardi family includes a number of different brands, including Disaronno, Bombay Blue Sapphire gin and Grey Goose vodka. There will also be posters placed in the Union explaining the ban.
The resolution regarding the ban was unclear of whether it will refer to just the sale of Bacardi products, or whether this will extend to sponsorship. Bacardi are a major sponsor of the Summer Party, giving £5,000 to the Students’ Union last year, and £500 towards the Sports Ball.
Jackie Smyth, Marketing Manager for Warwick SU, explained that “If we can’t sell Bacardi in the Union, I can’t see why they would want to sponsor the Summer Party.” Barcardi usually have a stall selling their own products as part of the sponsorship deal, which they would be unable to do at a Union event such as the Summer Party.
This may have an effect on the Summer Party in terms of increased ticket prices, or on an event which may not reach the same standard as last year. Finding another sponsor in the current economic climate might prove highly difficult.
The Union’s democratic system has come under fire for the ban. Many have argued that such a small group of students should not have the authority to pass a policy on behalf of all students at Warwick.
Chris Luck, the SU’s Democracy Officer, defends these accusations. “If students want direct democracy, they need to commit to it. They need to vote in referenda, they need to attend democratic meetings.
“If people aren’t going to attend and have their voice heard… the only option is a representative democracy. You can’t change that for one motion. You either buy into it or you don’t.”
Union democracy can be seen to be inaccessible to students. Despite being promoted online and through email, this is usually done only a few days or even hours before Union Council meetings. Luck said: “It’s definitely something that will feed into the Democracy Review.”
Students are highly divided on the Bacardi ban; this division was shown even within Union Council, as it passed 25 votes to 17. Binita Mehta voted against it, on the grounds that the whole process was not publicised enough to the students. “I don’t think the policy was well thought through – even the title was spelt wrong. It was too spontaneous and rash a decision. I also think if we want to have a position on Barcadi, we also need to have a position on [Coca Cola.]”
Dave Ramsey was previously a Bacardi Brand Ambassador on campus. “It doesn’t seem well researched, and the motion contained many incorrect facts. A lot of what they’ve been accused of is completely wrong. It seems like the Union and Sabbatical Officers have been misled. Everything contentious has come from only one article from _The Guardian_ – it’s ridiculous.”
Third-year councillor Jasper Pearce supports the ban: “While we can do perfectly well as an SU without Bacardi, the Cuban people cannot cope with a humanitarian crisis that Bacardi helps perpetuate.” Second-year councillor Aidan Hocking added: “Our Union should not be supporting a company like Bacardi. That it does is a stain on the conscience of every SU member.”
Ethical issues have long been debated at the Union. Earlier this year students voted in favour of societies being able to choose their own sponsorship partners and to allow controversial speakers to appear at the Union. These issues will debated alongside others on Tuesday 29 November at the General Meeting.
Bacardi were unavailable to comment at the time of going to print. A response from Bacardi will be available on theboar.org as soon as possible.