India Resource Center Letter to University of Massachusetts at Amherst

June 8, 2004

Dear Members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst community:

We are writing on behalf of communities in India with regard to UMass Amherst's "exclusive sponsorship agreement" with the Coca-Cola company that is set to expire at the end of August, 2004.

We are writing to urge you NOT to renew the contract with Coca-Cola. Our objection stems from numerous human rights and environmental abuses by the Coca-Cola company and its subsidiary in India, the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Ltd (HCBL).

We would like to bring your attention to a pattern of abuse, disregard and double standards that has emerged from Coca-Cola's bottling operations all across India. Our concerns about Coca-Cola stem not from only one bottling plant, but rather, various plants spread across India.

Related Links

Coca-Cola's Letter to UMass Amherst, June 15, 2004

India Resource Center Response to Coca-Cola, July 24, 2004

Coca-Cola's practices have resulted in severe hardships for the communities who live around its bottling facilities. These hardships include serious water shortages, polluted water and soil, loss of livelihood and income, and public health problems for which the long term consequences are yet unknown. A disproportionate number of community members who have been affected adversely by Coca-Cola's operations are some of the most marginalized communities in India- low-income, indigenous peoples, Dalits (formerly untouchables), farmers and women.

Specifically, Coca-Cola's operations have led to the following problems:

  1. Water shortages: Coca-Cola's extraction of groundwater is creating severe water shortages for at least four communities in India- in the states of Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Coca-Cola's indiscriminate mining of large amounts of water from the common groundwater resource has resulted in a significant drop in the water table, and many wells, including borewells, in the area, have gone dry. Communities now have to rely on other water sources, sometimes having to walk much longer to get water for basic use, including drinking and bathing.

    Coca-Cola continues to deny that its operations play any significant part in creating drought-like conditions in the area. However, the Kerala High Court, in a ruling on December 16, 2003, has ruled Coca-Cola's extraction from the common groundwater resource in Kerala to be illegal, ordering it to seek alternative sources of water for use in its facility. Coca-Cola, as per its usual practice, has challenged this ruling. However, the court's ruling still stands, and it validates the concern of the community.

    The state government of Kerala has ordered the Coca-Cola facility in Kerala temporarily shut down until June 15, 2004, to ease the drought conditions in the area.

  2. Water and Soil Pollution: Coca-Cola has polluted the scarce water and soil around its bottling operations. Coca-Cola had been discharging its waste water back into the ground. Tests by the Central Pollution Control Board, a government of India agency, found that the sludge from Coca-Cola's effluent treatment plant was hazardous and included heavy metals, including cadmium {http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/jpc/jpc-prsfb.htm}. As such, Coca-Cola had to discharge its waste as per the rules and regulations that define the disposal of hazardous waste.

    Coca-Cola refuses to allow independent monitors to establish how it has changed its practices in regard to the disposal of (the now confirmed) hazardous waste. Regardless, Coca-Cola has discharged sludge from the effluent treatment plant without applying the necessary precautions to protect public health and environment. The state of Kerala has deemed the water around the plant in Kerala "unfit for consumption".

  3. Toxic Waste as Fertilizer: Coca-Cola has also engaged in the outrageous practice of distributing the solid waste from its plants to farmers in the area - as fertilizer! Tests conducted by a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) crew on samples of the solid waste confirmed the presence of known carcinogen, cadmium, as well as lead, in the waste, effectively making the waste toxic {http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3096893.stm}. Coca-Cola only stopped this practice of distributing toxic waste to farmers in Kerala when ordered by the state government of Kerala. Residents in Uttar Pradesh have also alleged that Coca-Cola engaged in a similar practice. The long term implications of exposure to the toxic waste remains unclear.

    Coca-Cola claims that the cadmium and lead laced waste is perfectly harmless.

  4. Contaminated Drinks: A very well respected environmental group in India, the Centre for Science and Environment, conducted tests on samples of Coca-Cola products in the Indian market in September 2003. The tests found high concentrations of pesticides in the drinks, including DDT, malathion and lindane. Some samples found traces of pesticides thirty times higher than those allowed by the European Union standards. Test conducted at the same time on products from the US and EU markets were found to be safe.

    The Government of India initiated an inquiry into the findings, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), one of the most authoritative bodies possible to be set up in India, confirmed the original findings - that Coca-Cola products in the Indian market contained high levels of pesticides { http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/jpc/jpc-prsfb.htm}

    The Joint Parliamentary Committee report also found Coca-Cola guilty of misleading the public by broadcasting false advertisements claiming their products were safe. The report also charges the company with not doing enough to recharge the groundwater.

    Coca-Cola continues to sell its products in India, and even introduce new products in India. This comes at about the same time that at the first signs that its bottled water in the UK, Dasani, contained high levels of bromate, the entire product line was recalled from the UK, and the launch of Dasani in the rest of Europe postponed indefinitely.

Needless to say, we find Coca-Cola's practices in India extremely disturbing, and exhibitive of double standards-it engages in practices in a developing country such as India that would land it in deep trouble in the US or EU. It clearly values lives in the industrialized nations more than those in developing nations such as India. Our repeated efforts to question Coca-Cola about why they think that the average Indian can absorb poisons thirty times more that the average person in the European Union have gone unanswered.

Coca-Cola continues to treat the serious problems in India as a public relations problem. No amount of "spin" can wish the problem away. Literally tens of thousands of people in India, particularly people from Coca-Cola affected communities, have decided to hold Coca-Cola accountable for its abuses. They have now been joined by the legal and governmental bodies in India which are validating the concerns of the communities. The issue will not go away until there are genuine efforts on the part of Coca-Cola to address the issues.

Coca-Cola also has to come clean on the myriad of issues facing its operation in countries such as Colombia, Ghana, Mexico and elsewhere. Groups in India consider the fact finding report on Colombia by Hiram Monserrate, a New York City Council member, a damning indictment of Coca-Cola's complicity in human rights abuses, including murder, in Colombia.

As an institution of higher learning, and a very prestigious one at that too, the University of Massachusetts continues to play a key role in advancing a global society based on the principles of fairness, justice and equality. We believe that a renewal of the contract with Coca-Cola would go against these principles, and we invite the University of Massachusetts Amherst community to work with us to be a part of the solution by demanding basic respect for communities in India. Not renewing the contract with Coca-Cola would be a very positive first step.

For more information, please visit www.IndiaResource.org


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