Coca-Cola Challenged on Human Rights Abuses

For Immediate Release
April 20, 2005

Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center (US)
Email: amit(AT)IndiaResource.org Tel: 415 336 7584

Wilmington, Delaware, US: Strong concerns over Coca-Cola's gross violations of human rights and depletion of water resources in Colombia and India dominated the company's annual general meeting on Tuesday, April 19 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Close to twenty shareholders spoke on behalf of campaigns from India and Colombia, and Neville Isdell, chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola, resorted to ending the meeting rather than hear from fifteen more shareholders who were still waiting to speak.

Protesters at Coke AGM
Protesters at Coca-Cola AGM Photo: Amit Srivastava
The shareholders inside Coca-Cola's shareholder meeting were joined by a loud group of protesters outside the meeting venue, with signs and banners proclaiming "Coca-Cola: Stop De-Hydrating the World" and "Coca-Cola: Destroying Lives, Livelihoods and Communities."

Coca-Cola's crimes in India and Colombia were referred to in the opening statement of the meeting to placate the shareholders present but it was far from what was being sought by the speakers. Speaker after speaker kept on highlighting Coca-Cola's financial and legal liabilities as a result of their actions in Colombia and India, and were also critical of the largely public relations moves by the company to address the serious issues.

"The Coca-Cola company management is misleading it shareholders by not revealing the real extent of the liabilities it has incurred in India and Colombia. It is pulling an 'Enron'", said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center.

The campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable for its crimes in India and Colombia has gained significant momentum in the last year, and the presence of the large number of speakers at the shareholders meeting was indicative of how widely the campaign has spread, particularly on college and university campuses, as well as with trade unionists.

Even as Coca-Cola officials were trying to deal with the scores of protesters at its meeting, the campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable was producing damning results for the company.

The Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, New York, a graduate school of theology which trains students to be ministers in the Christian faith, just announced on Tuesday that it was banning the sale of Coca-Cola products on its campus.

In India, a new campaign was announced in Gangaikondan, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, against a Coca-Cola bottling plant under construction.

And a massive rally is planned in Plachimada, Kerala on April 22, where Coca-Cola's bottling plant has remained shut down for over a year because the village council has refused to renew Coca-Cola's license to operate. April 22 marks the third year anniversary of a constant vigil that the community members have kept outside the factory gates, and two key groups in the area, the Anti Coca-Cola Struggle Committee and the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, have announced that the Coca-Cola factory will never be allowed to re-open.

A division bench of the High Court of Kerala ruled on April 7 that Coca-Cola could extract up to five hundred thousand liters of water per day, under normal rainfall conditions, in Plachimada. It instructed the village council to seek the necessary permits within 15 days and reconsider the granting of a license to Coca-Cola.

However, the health minister of Kerala, K.K. Ramachandran, has stated that the State Pollution Control Board will not issue a permit to Coca-Cola, making it extremely unlikely that the plant can re-open.

The village council will also be appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court of India.


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