This guest blog comes to us from Charlotte Biren - activist, volunteer, and Brown University alum, Class of 2016.
As a 2016 Brown University grad, I was very excited to be heading back to Providence for this year’s Commencement, to see many of my friends complete their college careers. My excitement, however, was accompanied by disappointment and frustration when I learned that Brown would be awarding PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi an honorary degree.
Brown University prides itself on promoting positive social change through academic excellence, revelatory research, and passionate students and staff. While at Brown, I was involved in the Development Studies Department undergraduate group, Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment, Brown’s Organization of Multiracial Students, and the Cofan Brown Student Alliance. In my opinion, awarding Indra Nooyi this honorary degree does not reflect Brown University values.
There are several reasons I believe Brown should not have awarded Ms. Nooyi this degree. To communicate this, some fellow alumni and I decided to start a petition on Change.org calling on Brown University President to not reward her for the following reasons:
Indra Nooyi Supports the Trump Administration’s Destructive Economic Policies: As a member of President Trump’s Business Council, Indra Nooyi is complicit in the current administration’s racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and anti-environment agenda.
PepsiCo appropriates social movements: PepsiCo’s recent commercial, mixing protest with slick advertising and celebrities, was out of touch and insulting to real social movements, with particular disregard for the suffering of Black communities at the hands of police.
PepsiCo’s supply chain is riddled with irresponsibly produced palm oil: PepsiCo is using palm oil linked to deforestation, species extinction, human rights abuses, and exploitation and endangerment of workers—including women and children—in its snacks sold across the globe. Pepsi’s Indonesian partner Indofood has been caught red-handed exploiting its workers and putting children to work on its plantations. Bulldozers linked to PepsiCo’s suppliers continue to destroy precious rainforests like the Leuser Ecosystem.
Furthermore, Brown is one of several elite colleges that was shaped by slavery, and is now seeking to acknowledge and address this history. Why then, is the university recognizing an individual whose company’s supply chain and business partner continue to perpetuate severe human rights abuses, including child labor?
Brown alumni and students drop a banner during commencement to deliver a message to Indra Nooyi.
Hundreds of signatures of our petition were delivered to Brown University President Paxson, but Ms. Nooyi still was rewarded. Not without protest though. I joined a group of Brown alumni and students on the day of Commencement to disrupt Indra Nooyi’s award. We dropped a banner from a building near the ceremony; some of us stood up in the audience with signs, others handed out flyers, and after the event, we confronted Ms. Nooyi directly.
Dan Sherrell, Brown class 2013, hands out flyers to commencement attendees, explaining PepsiCo’s Conflict Palm Oil supply chain.
Maya Sikand, Brown class 2013, shares info about the human rights and labor abuses in PepsiCo’s Conflict Palm Oil supply chain.
Members of the Brown University class of 2017 hold up a sign as Indra Nooyi receives an honorary degree.
CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi notices the graduating seniors in the audience holding up a sign with a message for her.
To learn more about Indra Nooyi and PepsiCo’s poor business practices, visit www.ran.org/pepsico_profits.