CorpWatch India Responds to Coca-Cola

CorpWatch India
August 13, 2002

The India Resource Center was originally named the CorpWatch India project- Editor. CorpWatch India has been sponsoring a fax action against Coca Cola for the company's inhumane activities in Plachimada, Kerala. An overwhelming amount of faxes were sent to which Coke replied with a standardized public relations-type letter. Below is CorpWatch India's response to the company's letter. For background, read No Water? Drink Coke!. The fax action to Coke has been discontinued.

Douglas N. Daft
Chairman of the Board of Directors
The Coca Cola Company

August 13, 2002

Mr. Daft:

We are responding here to the casual manner in which your company has chosen to handle communications concerning serious complaints against your operations in Plachimada, Kerala state, India. Regrettably, your responses deal in generalities rather than specifics to counter our report. Letters from CorpWatch India to equeriesica@na.ko.com -- the sender of the standard format response from Coca Cola -- and David Cox, your communications manager in Asia Pacific, have not been responded to.

It is unfortunate that you have chosen to treat these serious complaints as a public relations problem.

To reiterate facts, in Plachimada, Kerala, your Indian subsidiary -- Hindustan Coca Cola -- has been charged with excessive extraction of groundwater, contamination of groundwater and parching of the wells and groundwater sources supplying a large community of farmers, adivasis (indigenous people) and dalits (oppressed castes). Our statement of the facts of the case (as can be seen from the article "No Water? Drink Coke!" and the petition against your company) remain unaltered.

On 4 August, 2002, more than 1,000 people (hardly a small number), mostly indigenous people and dalits, joined by their supporters from around the country, marched 7 kilometres to the Coca Cola factory site in Plachimada. The rally marked the 105th day of the indefinite strike by the villagers protesting Coca Cola's exploitation of village water sources. For 105 days, every day, at least 50 villagers from the hamlets adjacent to the Coca Cola factory have protested outside the Coca Cola factory in Palghat. The duration of the protest and the fact that the protest is organized by the villagers living next to the Coca Cola factory is proof enough that the struggle is legitimate and the issues real.

In your format response to people who faxed you a petition, and in your responses to journalists in India and abroad, you have misrepresented some facts and chosen to completely ignore others.

We reproduce (below) your standard letter to persons who sent petitions to the Coca Cola CEO at the end of our response.

  1. Coca Cola's claims of moving towards sustainability by consuming fewer natural resources

    Your claims to be moving toward sustainability, and to consume fewer natural resources ring hollow given that every new bottling unit that Coca Cola sets up to manufacture Coke and other fizzy drinks places a fresh demand on precious groundwater used by communities for drinking and agriculture, and for future generations. Three years ago, you were not consuming any natural resources or water from Plachimada, Kerala. Now you are. Setting up a new bottling unit introduces a new burden on natural resources and is by no means a move towards consuming fewer natural resources than what you already are consuming.

    Indeed, if the operations were so sustainable, why was Coca Cola attempting to provide "tankers of free water supplies each day" as you claim in your response?

  2. Coca Cola's claims that the allegations are politically motivated

    It is a fact that the villagers were self-sufficient in water for drinking and agriculture until three years ago, when Coca Cola set up a unit. The factory has a maximum reported consumption of 1.5 million litres of water per day. All the water for the plant comes from underground aquifers. Even by the company's own admission, the plant currently consumes up to 600,000 litres per day of groundwater.

    Regarding the legitimacy enjoyed by the struggle against Coke, kindly note that it is the villagers that have formed the Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy (Anti Coca Cola Peoples Struggle Committee). The convenor for this committee is Mr. Veloor Swaminathan, an adivasi leader from Plachimada the village worst affected by Coke's activities. Also, the fight for water by the Plachimada villagers against Coca Cola has the support of numerous local, national and international people's groups, trade unions and NGOs. To name a few CorpWatch India, the National Alliance of People's Movements, Telengana Jana Sabha of Andhra Pradesh, Dalit Liberation Party, Vyavasaykal Thozilalar Munnetra Sangam (Farm Labourer's Development Association), People's Union for Civil Liberties, Tamilnadu Green Movement, the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (The Grand Council of Tribals), and Viplava Streevadi Prasthanam (Revolutionary Feminist Movement).

  3. Coca Cola's claims that it is supplying water by tanker truck to villagers

    It is a fact that Coca Cola Company attempted to appease protesting villagers from Plachimada village by providing water through tanker trucks. It is also a fact that villagers have refused to accept water from Coca Cola. Coca Cola tankers don't even attempt to deliver water to the villages any more. Mr. Veloor Swaminathan, an adivasi leader and a resident of Plachimada, has declared that Coca Cola's attempts to provide tanker water to the villagers is proof enough of the company's guilt in depleting the local aquifers.

  4. Coca Cola's claims that it is supplying water from borewell to villagers

    It has also been verified with local villagers that the borewell sunk by Coca Cola has been rejected by the villagers and that water from this borewell has not been used by local villagers or anybody else till date. The adivasi and dalit women have said that they prefer to walk 2 kilometres to nearby wells rather than accept water provided by Coca Cola. Kindly note that the villagers want Coca Cola to shut down its water-intensive operations, not sink new borewells into the shared aquifer of the community. Also kindly note that the borewell does not extract water from an underground aquifer owned by Coke. Rather, it seeks to extract water from the common groundwater resources of the community.

  5. Coca Cola's correction of the number of borewells

    The claim about "only six bore wells (not the 600 as alleged)" is moot for two reasons. First, CorpWatch India does not mention that 600 borewells have been sunk. Second, what matters is not how many borewells, but how much water the company consumes. Similarly, how much you save through your rainwater harvesting is not the issue; how much additional load you add to the aquifer is. Villagers have clearly indicated that they reserve the right to put their shared groundwater resources to other uses than for the manufacture of aerated drinks for Coca Cola's private profits. Kindly note that scientific analyses of the well-water from the village well adjacent your factory confirms the presence of high levels of dissolved salts. This, according to US-based scientist Dr. Mark Chernaik of ELAW-US, is an indication and a result of the fast rate of depletion of the aquifer.

    Also, figures reported by your company to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board regarding the operations of a bottling plant similar in function to the unit running in Kerala is telling of how wasteful Coca Cola's bottling operations are. The Tamilnadu unit, located in Madura Nemam village, extracts 2.6 million litres per day for a product output of 700,000 litres per day. More than 1.9 million litres of water -- used for washing, equipment cleaning and other purposes -- ends up as wastewater. This is an unpardonable waste especially considering that millions of people are forced to go without even the basic requirement for drinking, leave alone for other purposes like bathing.

  6. Coca Cola's claims that their workers were attacked, and Coca Cola's expression of gratitude to the State Police

    The adivasi and dalit leaders from the village have indicated that your company has indeed secured the protection of the police. We are glad that you acknowledge the existence of local tension of sufficient intensity to warrant police intervention. In effect, the plant is being run despite the objections of the local community purely by dint of state muscle power. Also, the fact that the factory is still operating testifies to the essentially non-violent nature of the protest by the villagers.

    Contrary to your allegation that your workers were attacked by protestors, it has been the water-starved villagers that have been brutalized by the police. Our updates to the "No Water? Drink Coke!" article document this. Till date, more than 300 people including women, children and even infants have been taken into custody for fighting for their right to drinking water.

  7. Coca Cola's claims that it has attempted without success to contact CorpWatch India

    This is to record that your company has never tried contacting us, despite the fact that our website lists our email and telephone addresses, and your Indian spokesperson Mr. Vijay Bhaskar Reddy has the contact details of Nityanand Jayaraman, the author of the "No Water? Drink Coke!" report.

Mr. Daft, The Coca Cola Company needs to act immediately to meet the community demands, and no longer treat the issue through the public relations department at Coca Cola.

Thank you,

CorpWatch India

Standard format letter from Coca Cola Company to persons who sent petitions to Coca Cola CEO through CorpWatch and CorpWatch India websites.

Return-Path: Received: from ko.com ([])
Received: by ko.com; id NAA12752; Wed, 24 Jul 2002 13:02:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Date: Wed, 24 Jul 2002 13:02:21 -0400
Subject: INTMSG

Your letter was shared with me. Thank you for contacting The Coca-Cola Company regarding the allegations that have been made against the Coca-Cola plant in Kerala, India. We appreciate the opportunity to communicate with you on this issue.

As a corporate citizen, The Coca-Cola Company conducts its business as stewards of the environment, with a commitment to continually move our business toward sustainability: striving to consume fewer natural resources, and to recover and reuse resources more extensively.

We would like to emphasize that, to the best of our knowledge, these allegations made against the plant in Kerala are untrue. In fact, we believe that the allegations are politically motivated.

The plant concerned has not drained the aquifers in the Palghat district, and uses only six bore wells (not the 600 as alleged). In fact, the local villages receive tankers of free water supplies each day from the plant to supplement their existing water sources. Last year the Company also provided a bore well for the neighboring village at its own cost and is currently establishing an elaborate infrastructure for rain water harvesting. Furthermore, the plant's water recycling program has led to over 10 percent savings on water requirements from the aquifers last year alone.

We remain concerned about the safety of our staff, as a number have been physically attacked by the small group of protestors outside of the plant. However, we are grateful to the local police who have provided protection to our staff and prevented further violence and intimidation.

Additionally, we have been attempting to speak to those who have made the allegations but so far they have refused to speak to us. We will continue to seek a constructive dialogue with them.

As always, we appreciate the opportunity to keep an open dialogue with you and appreciate that you were mindful that these are allegations that have been made against this Coca-Cola plant, not statements of fact. Please feel free to contact us if we may be of assistance or may provide additional information in the future.

The Coca-Cola Company
Industry & Consumer Affairs



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