Coke-free University of Michigan
We are heartened to learn that the University — a premier institution
of higher learning — is on its way to joining the growing ranks of
universities internationally that are stopping business-as-usual with
Coca-Cola Corporation because of the company’s violations of human
rights and the environment. Coca-Cola’s track record in India is one
such example of how Coca-Cola violates human rights and the environment.
As a result, any contract with the Coca-Cola company is in violation
of the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct, and the University must
not renew its contract with the Coca-Cola company.
We would like to bring your attention to Coca-Cola’s practices in
India that have resulted in severe hardships for people in communities
across India who live around its bottling facilities.
Specifically, Coca-Cola’s operations have led to the following problems:
Water shortages: Coca-Cola’s indiscriminate extraction of large amounts
of water from the common groundwater resource has resulted in a significant
drop in the groundwater table, and many wells, including borewells,
in the area, have gone dry. Communities now have to rely on other
water sources for basic use, including drinking and bathing.
Coca-Cola’s single largest bottling plant in India remains shut down
because the local village council is refusing to renew Coca-Cola’s
license, claiming that it is depleting the groundwater excessively.
In a significant ruling, the High Court of Kerala 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.
And a number of studies, including one by the Central Ground Water
Board, a government of India agency, has held Coca-Cola responsible
for the significant decline in the water table in areas of its bottling
Water and Soil Pollution: Coca-Cola has polluted the scarce groundwater
and soil around its bottling operations, directly as a result of discharging
its waste water back into the surrounding fields. 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.
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 the British Broadcasting
Corporation 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. Coca-Cola only stopped this practice when
ordered by the state government. The long-term implications of exposure
to the toxic waste remains unclear.
Contaminated Drinks: In 2003, tests conducted on random Coca-Cola
samples from the Indian market found extremely high concentrations
of pesticides — including DDT, malathion and lindane — in the drinks,
sometimes higher than 30 times those allowed by European Union standards!
The Indian government initiated an inquiry, and a Joint Parliamentary
Committee, 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.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee report also found Coca-Cola guilty
of misleading the public by broadcasting false advertisements claiming
its products were safe. The report also charges the company with not
doing enough to recharge the groundwater.
Coca-Cola’s operations in India point to a pattern of abuse, disregard
and double standards. The facts surrounding Coca-Cola’s abuses in
India speak for themselves, and we invite you to visit www.IndiaResource.org
for further details, including documentation of the facts.
Unfortunately, the Coca-Cola company has chosen to respond to the
growing crisis in India by treating it as a public relations problem.
We strongly believe that this is not a problem that Coca-Cola can
“spin” away, as much as it would like to. Our assertion is supported
by the fact that literally thousands of community members all across
India continue to organize and fight for their lives, directly challenging
the injustices being committed by the Coca-Cola company.
In a country like India, where over 70 percent of the population still
makes a living related to agriculture, taking away water and poisoning
the land and the water is a sure way to destroy lives, livelihoods
As an institution of higher learning, and a very prestigious one at
that, the University 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 negate
these principles, and we invite the University community 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. Anything less would not be sufficient.
Srivastava is a coordinator at a nongovernmental organization, the
India Resource Center.
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