Coca-Cola's Own Report Implicates Company for Abuses in India
The Coca-Cola company is up to its old tricks again.
The company has just announced that it has received the Golden Peacock
Global Award for corporate social responsibility. The award, which
is sponsored by the Coca-Cola company itself, ostensibly "recognizes
the Company's efforts in water conservation and management and its
community development initiatives" and "the continuing commitment
by business to behave ethically", according to the announcement.
Ethical? Water conservation? Community development? And Coca-Cola?
Ask the communities in India left thirsty as a result of Coca-Cola's
operations, and they will tell you that this is a cruel joke, perhaps
a hoax. And that is exactly what it is. In spite of the growing evidence
implicating the Coca-Cola company for causing water shortages in India,
the company's public relations department has done what it is paid
to do - manufacture an image of the company that it clearly is not.
A couple of days after awarding itself the Golden Peacock award, the
Coca-Cola company announced a US$10 million corporate social responsibility
fund that will focus on water management in India. At first glance,
such an initiative would be welcome. But the Coca-Cola company first
must tackle all the water and environmental problems that it has created
(and continues to) in India. The announcement of the fund is clearly
a response to the growing campaign against Coca-Cola, and it is meant
as a way to divert attention from the real issues in India-exacerbating
the water crises in India and pollution.
The Coca-Cola company has continued to accuse us of making erroneous
statements "not based on facts" and have claimed that the only reason
they are targets of the campaign is because they are a well known
brand. Earlier this year, however, Coca-Cola got a rude awakening
when an assessment of their operations in India that they paid for
and conducted by an ally of Coca-Cola validated what the communities
have been saying all along.
As a result of the formidable student-led campaign in the US (in which
the India Resource Center has represented the India issues), the Coca-Cola
company was forced to agree to an assessment of its bottling operations
in India. Specifically, it was the University of Michigan which demanded
that Coca-Cola agree to an assessment if it wanted to continue business
with the university. While we were not pleased with the choice of
the assessor (the Energy and Resources Institute- TERI) because they
are funded by the Coca-Cola company, the findings of the assessment
were a strong rebuke to Coca-Cola.
The assessment by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of six
Coca-Cola bottling plants in India released in January 2008 validate
the concerns being raised by the communities in India.
What were some of the key findings of the assessment?
Banner at Coca-Cola Museum Photo: A. Samulon/India Resource Center
- Community Concerns Validated
The report states that "In general, the community perceptions were
found in conformity to the results obtained from the detailed technical
assessment of groundwater resources."
- Assessment Recommends Closure of Kala Dera Bottling
The assessment has recommended a key campaign demand - the closure
of the Kala Dera bottling plant in Rajasthan. The assessment notes
that the water resources in Kala Dera are overexploited and that
the Coca-Cola bottling plant would continue to worsen the water
Sign at Kala Dera Plant Photo: India Resource Center
- Coca-Cola Has Sited its Bottling Plants Without Due
Consideration to Community Impacts
The assessment is very clear that the Coca-Cola company has sited
its bottling plants in India from strictly a "business continuity"
perspective that has not taken the wider context into perspective.
- Coca-Cola Has Not Respected Rights of Farmers and Groundwater
Taking note of the fact that three of the six sites assessed were
either in overexploited or critical groundwater areas, the report
notes that "Siting policies need to recognize and respect the existing
(formal and informal) riparian rights."
- Coca-Cola Also Warned on Mehdiganj, Another Key Campaign
The assessment also validates the concerns of the communities around
the Mehdiganj bottling plant who have been campaigning against the
local Coca-Cola bottling plant for creating water shortages. Using
the logic offered for Kala Dera, the Coca-Cola company should also
be making plans to shut down the bottling plant in Mehdiganj - another
key campaign demand as well as the bottling plant in Nabipur. The
report notes that the water tables in Mehdiganj have been declining
towards a semi-critical state, and in Nabipur, the aquifer is already
- Coca-Cola has Not Met its Own Waste Management Standards
at Plants Surveyed
The assessment found that while Coca-Cola has met most, BUT NOT
ALL, government regulatory standards with regard to water quality,
the company has failed to meet its own standards on waste management
at all the plants surveyed. What is the point of having the Coca-Cola
company standards on pollution, we ask, if the company does not
- Coca-Cola Does Not Have Adequate Pollution Prevention
The assessment also pointed out the deficiencies in managing waste
in Coca-Cola's plants in India. The report stated that the Coca-Cola
company needed to develop additional requirements for treated wastewater
quality. The assessment also found shortcomings in the effluent
discharge in four of the six plants assessed.
- Increased Pollution in Immediate Vicinity of Coca-Cola
The assessment also confirmed an alarming trend that the communities
living around Coca-Cola's bottling plants have identified - pollution.
However, the assessment is not able to identify the source of the
pollution, and has called for further studies.
- Coca-Cola Continues to Act in Bad Faith
The TERI assessment makes it clear that the fact that the Coca-Cola
company did not share the Environmental Due Diligence (similar to
an environmental impact assessment) with TERI has hampered the scope
and effectiveness of the assessment. The TERI assessment also points
to a disturbing question. Did Coca-Cola company officials know (as
they should have) that the area around the Kala Dera bottling plant
was already classified as an overexploited block? The Environmental
Due Diligence should have alerted them to the fact that the area
was classified as overexploited. Regardless, the Coca-Cola company
located its plant in Kala Dera, which has resulted in increased
water shortages for the community.
Remember, the assessment was paid for by the Coca-Cola company. And
the assessor was TERI. TERI is funded by the Coca-Cola company, has
co-organized Earth Day and seminars on sustainable development together,
and has also named Coca-Cola as one of the most responsible companies
in India in the past.
Clearly, the assessment findings would have shook the Coca-Cola company
because they felt they could have somehow "managed" the findings.
But the situation is so bad that even an allied organization gave
Coca-Cola failing marks.
The Coca-Cola company's public relations department went into overdrive,
and tried to "manage" the news. In India, they were very successful.
Some newspapers in India headlined the news "Coke Gets TERI Clean
Chit on Eco Compliance", probably never having bothered to read the
assessment and going directly with what Coca-Cola's press officers
Some foreign media, however, got the story right. New York Times headlined
it "Coca-Cola Urged to Close an Indian Plant to Save Water", the Wall
Street Journal headlined it "Coke Must Boost Efforts to Improve Water
Supplies in India, Report Says", and the Atlanta Journal Constitution
headlined it "Report Faults Coke Water Use in India".
Regardless of the Coca-Cola company's efforts to mislead the public
once again, the campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable has strengthened.
Even a Coca-Cola funded study conducted by a Coca-Cola ally has implicated
the Coca-Cola company for causing water shortages and pollution. The
concerns that the communities have raised against Coca-Cola have been
But will Coca-Cola do the right thing and actually admit that it has
done wrong in India, and take genuine measures to address them? Unfortunately,
no. The Coca-Cola company will continue to treat the serious problems
it continues to create in India as a public relations problem, and
announce grand schemes to conserve and manage water when its own track
record shows a dismal relationship with water.
Communities in India will continue to apply pressure on the Coca-Cola
company to end their abuses in India, and solidarity groups internationally
will continue to let Coca-Cola know that business is not as usual
until it cleans up its act in India.
The community of Mehdiganj and Coca-Cola affected communities in India
have announced a conference to challenge the eroding right to water
and asserting the fundamental human right to water. The conference
will take place in Mehdiganj on March 28 and 29 and will be followed
by a march and demonstration against the Coca-Cola bottling plant
on March 30.
The community of Kala Dera seek your solidarity in demanding that
the Coca-Cola company follow one of the key recommendations of the
Coca-Cola funded assessment - that Coca-Cola shut down its bottling
For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org
Amit Srivastava is the coordinator of India Resource Center, an
international campaigning organization working to challenge abuses
by multinational corporations.
Sign at Plachimada Bottling Plant Photo: India Resource Center
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