India Resource Center Response to Coca-Cola

Chancellor John Lombardi
347 Whitmore Administration Building
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003

July 24, 2004

Dear Chancellor Lombardi:

I trust you have received our letter to you dated June 8, 2004 with the subject "Indian Concerns on Coca-Cola Contract".

We have just received a copy of Coca-Cola's letter, signed by Clyde Tuggle and dated June 15, 2004, to you and we are absolutely amazed that such a well-known multinational brand can resort to such an exercise of deception. We are writing to respond to Coca-Cola's letter.

Related Links

India Resource Center Letter to UMass Amherst, June 8, 2004

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

We find Coca-Cola's letter to be reckless, designed to mislead your office as you pursue the facts before making an important decision. An examination of the facts, as reported by the media, by various governmental, intergovernmental and independent sources, is very contrary to what Coca-Cola states in their letter.

We stand behind the points made in our letter on June 8, 2004 and we urge you NOT to renew the contract with Coca-Cola based on the 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 clarify each and every point made by Coca-Cola in their letter regarding their practices in India.

  1. Coca-Cola states:
    "A number of independent scientific and Governmental reports spell out the fact that the Coca-Cola plant in Kerala should not be held responsible for the water shortages in the area. The local area is and has been experiencing drought conditions for some time. The most recent report, compiled by relevant Government regulators and an independent non-Governmental organization, has drawn the same conclusion. This recent report was commissioned by the Kerala High Court based on a court case brought against the plant and to allow the court to determine the actual facts."

    1. The Kerala High Court, in a ruling dated December 16, 2003, has stated that Coca-Cola has to stop using the common groundwater resource for its production, and has to seek alternative sources of water. The High Court does, indeed, hold Coca-Cola responsible for over extraction of groundwater in Plachimada, and only by doing so does it order Coca-Cola to stop the use of groundwater for its production. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3325557.stm

    By omitting reference to the High Court decision (the highest court in India to decide on this matter to date), Coca-Cola is MISLEADING your office.

    Furthermore, the "recent report" commissioned by the Kerala High Court that Coca-Cola does refer to, is an INTERIM report, issued on May 14, 2004, and part of a ONE YEAR STUDY. The findings are, according to the report itself, "tentative".

    By omitting reference to the interim nature of the report, Coca-Cola is MISLEADING your office.

  2. Coca-Cola states:
    "Our operations in India are subject to regulation by the national government's Central Pollution Control Board, as well as the various State Pollution Control Boards. In a recently issued determination, the Central Pollution Control Board indicated that the concentration of cadmium and other heavy metals in our bio-solids is below prescribed limits and, therefore, instructed the State Pollution Control Boards that the bio-solids should not be considered hazardous."

    Based of the report confirming toxicity of Coca-Cola's solid waste by the BBC and the University of Exeter labs (in our original letter), the state government of Kerala instructed the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to test the solid waste. KSPCB confirmed that the sludge it analyzed from samples collected from the factory premises on July 29, 2003 contained a dangerously high level of cadmium (201.8 mg/kg dry weight, against the permissible rate of 50 mg/kg). Based on these findings, Coca-Cola was ordered by the state pollution control board to STOP the distribution of its solid waste to farmers in the area (under the guise of fertilizer). KSPCB Chairman Paul Thachil said: "There can be wide variations in results from such samples. But the results are indicative of a high concentration of heavy metals and the sludge may have to be classified as a hazardous waste. The Board has therefore instructed the company not to let the sludge out of the factory premises, not to let anyone use it as manure, even within the factory premises." See http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/breaking_news/6469955.htm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3133259.stm

    Coca-Cola would have continued to distribute its solid waste, containing high levels of cadmium and lead, to the surrounding community if they had not been ordered to stop the practice.

    By omitting reference to the KSPCB report and the fact that Coca-Cola was ORDERED to stop the practice of distribution toxic waste by the top state pollution regulatory agency, Coca-Cola is MISLEADING your office.

  3. Coca-Cola states:
    "Despite the strength of our Company's position, we have decided to suspend the operation of the plant until we are able to find a mutually satisfactory position between ourselves and the local and state governments."

    In February 2004, the State Government of Kerala, issued notice to Coca-Cola to temporarily cease operations in Plachimada until June 15. Coca-Cola did not make this decision, the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada was temporarily shut down by order of the state government of Kerala. See http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=52926

    By omitting reference to the state government order to suspend operations in Plachimada, and by suggesting (deceptively) that it was Coca-Cola who voluntarily suspended operations, Coca-Cola is MISLEADING your office.

  4. Coca-Cola states:
    "In August 2003 India's Ministry of Health & Family Welfare commissioned accredited Indian laboratories to perform tests on our soft drinks throughout the country. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare confirmed that our products in India are safe. Additionally, two of the world's leading internationally accredited laboratories (TNO in the Netherlands and CSL in the UK) have confirmed through independent testing of our products manufactured in India that these products are safe to drink."

    As mentioned in our letter on June 8, 2004, the Government of India initiated an inquiry into the matter of pesticides in soft drinks, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), the most authoritative body ever set up in India on this matter, confirmed the original findings that Coca-Cola products in the Indian market contained high levels of pesticides.
    See http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/jpc/jpc-prsfb.htm and http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/5922_560810,0015002100000000.htm

    The same Joint Parliamentary Committee report also found Coca-Cola guilty of misleading the public by broadcasting false advertisements claiming their products were safe.

    By failing to accept the results of the highest governmental agency which confirmed the presence of high pesticide levels in their products, Coca-Cola is MISLEADING your office.

Coca-Cola is also continuing the pattern of misleading the public, as charged by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, by choosing to selectively mention and even distort the facts. This, unfortunately, is evident throughout Coca-Cola's letter to your office.

Coca-Cola has also failed to address the concerns of water scarcity and water and soil pollution being experienced by communities all across India that live next to its bottling facilities. Since our last letter to you, Coca-Cola has faced more large scale protests in India (in Kala Dera, Rajasthan and in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh in particular), for over exploitation of the common groundwater resource and pollution.

Coca-Cola has chosen to respond to these very serious and real concerns by tens of thousands of people in India through their public relations department. Such a move continues to make matters worse for the communities in India being deprived of water, being poisoned by Coca-Cola and losing their livelihoods.

Coca-Cola's abusive practices (and their deceptive representations to your office) reeks of double standards. Coca-Cola cannot and should not be allowed to state something in the US and do something completely different in a developing country such as India.

We have confidence in the public in the United States, and their institutions, to uphold values of honesty, integrity and good business practices. We urge you to take a look at all the facts for yourselves. Coca-Cola's letter dated June 15, 2004 is reckless. It is designed to keep your offices unaware of the facts as they stand, by failing to mention KEY orders, directives, reports and findings.

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. 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.

Feel free to contact me by email at amit(AT)igc.org and also visit our website at www.IndiaResource.org for more information.

Thank you.


Amit Srivastava
India Resource Center

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