Coca-Cola Funded Group Investigates Coca-Cola in India

By Amit Srivastava
India Resource Center
April 16, 2007

The international campaign to hold the Coca-Cola company accountable for its crimes in India continues to grow stronger. The campaign has been characterized by the Wall Street Journal as having cost the Coca-Cola company " millions of dollars in lost sales and legal fees in India, and growing damage to its reputation elsewhere."

Just in the last month, for example, students at Manchester University in the UK and the University of Guelph in Canada have voted to remove Coca-Cola products from campus because of the company's unethical practices in India.

The Coca-Cola company is guilty of creating severe water shortages in communities across India. The company, which regularly extracts up to a million liters of water per day from the groundwater resource in some bottling plants, has located many of its plants in "drought prone" areas. The result has been that ever since the Coca-Cola company started its bottling operations in the area, literally thousands of surrounding residents, primarily low-income agricultural workers, have been left thirsting for water. Coca-Cola's thirst for water -which the company receives practically for free and sells at inflated prices - has had dramatic impacts. Not only are residents struggling to meet their basic water needs such as for drinking, cooking and bathing, farmers in the area have found themselves without enough water to yield successful crops.

To add insult to injury, the Coca-Cola company has also polluted the land and groundwater around its bottling plants in India, making access to water even more difficult. In contravention of Indian laws, the company has routinely disposed off its toxic waste without taking adequate measures to treat and contain the waste, as is required by law.

As the international campaign continues to take a financial and branding toll, the Coca-Cola company is desperately trying to ward off its critics by hiring prominent movie actors as spokespersons, manufacturing its own studies and also giving itself awards for "environmental" excellence.

One of Coca-Cola's latest maneuvers is an attempt to contain the growing number of colleges and universities in the US, UK and Canada that are taking actions against the company to hold it accountable.

Campus-Corporate Nexus

On January 1, 2006, the University of Michigan suspended its business relationship with the Coca-Cola company as a result of the student campaign on campus. One of the conditions placed on the Coca-Cola company was that it must agree to a "independent, third party" assessment of its operations in India.

Exactly a year ago, in April 2006, the University of Michigan resumed the sale of Coca-Cola products on campus (while still keeping Coca-Cola on probation). The University of Michigan had accepted Coca-Cola's choice of the "independent, third party" assessor of its operations in India, a group call the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

The acceptance of TERI as the assessor of Coca-Cola by the University of Michigan raised some serious questions about the relationship between public universities and private corporations.

Defying all logic, the University of Michigan had agreed to a group funded and sponsored by the Coca-Cola company to assess Coca-Cola's operations in India in an "independent, third party" manner.

Coca-Cola Funded Group Investigates Coca-Cola

TERI and Coca-Cola India
Coca-Cola India Sponsoring TERI Conference in 2005
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the group that is assessing Coca-Cola's operations in India, has a long and cushy history with the Coca-Cola company, some of which includes:
  • Coca-Cola India is an active funder of TERI and is listed as a corporate sponsor of TERI.
  • TERI has named Coca-Cola as among the most responsible companies in India in 2001.
  • TERI organized Earth Day 2003 with the "support of Coca-Cola", and Sunil Gupta, Vice-President for Public Affairs and Communication at Coca-Cola India was a keynote speaker.
  • TERI organizes the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit annually, of which the Coca-Cola company has been a partner in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
  • In a video on Coca-Cola's website refuting the campaign in India, the director of TERI, R.K Pachauri, is quoted as saying "based on the interaction and the joint activities that we have carried out with Coca Cola in India, I feel very encouraged that, you know, this company is on the right track. And I know they are very serious, and they are clearly dedicated to bringing about a change and making a difference to society."

TERI Cannot Investigate Coca-Cola Fairly

Groups in India campaigning against Coca-Cola have rejected the choice of TERI as the independent assessor of Coca-Cola's operations in India, and in a letter to the University of Michigan on December 6, 2006, wrote: "We categorically reject the choice of the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) as an independent third party evaluator of the complaints against Coca-Cola in India."

The letter from Indian groups went on to state that: "We welcome an investigation into Coca-Cola's practices in India. In fact, we expect a rigorous investigation by a prestigious university like the University of Michigan. But allowing TERI, which clearly has a mutually beneficial relationship with Coca-Cola, is neither fair, independent or third party. By agreeing to Coca-Cola's choice of the group in India to develop the investigation, the University of Michigan shows a complete disregard for the very real and serious problems being faced by communities in India."

The Coca-Cola company and the University of Michigan have chosen to ignore the concerns raised on the selection of TERI, and have invited a third party, the Meridian Institute, to get involved.

But the groups India have no confidence in this move because the principal party investigating Coca-Cola in India has a longstanding mutually beneficial relationship with Coca-Cola. The investigation of Coca-Cola's operations will enjoy no credibility as long as TERI remains the primary group leading the investigation.

The campaign is bringing the issue of the independent investigation into Coca-Cola to the Coca-Cola shareholder meeting on April 18, 2007. In a resolution asking for a report on the potential environmental and public health damage from its plants in India, the resolution asks that "the report should be commissioned to an independent, third party organization which has no past or present relationship with the Coca-Cola Company or the campaign against the Coca-Cola Company.

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